Why California Chrome Winning the Triple Crown is Bad for Horseracing
Please forgive me for not writing another fawning piece about how good this is for the sport, but I can’t do that in good conscience. I’m certainly in the minority, but just because you read that slobbering drivel in every single publication in the country doesn’t make it right. As a matter of fact, it’s that emotional fan-boy, short-term thinking that is permitting the continued decline of the sport in the US, but we’ll get to that later.
First off – it’s most likely he won’t win. The stats:
22 horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but lost (or didn’t start) the Belmont. 11 of those came before 1978 and the final successful 3-race effort of Affirmed. So we have 11 Triple Crown champs in history, 11 failed efforts after 2 wins prior to 1978, and 11 Derby/Preakness winners since 1978 who have failed on the third leg.
Put another way: prior to the last TC winner in 1978 – 22 horses won the first 2 legs, and 11 won the final prize. Since 1978, 11 have won the first two yet failed at Belmont Park. Granted the time before 1978 goes back a long ways, but to be 11/22 up until 1978 and 0/11 since cannot be a mere coincidence – the odds would be astronomical. You know my bias: the reason is because our conditioning practices have shriveled up to short, slow gallops and infrequent breezes.
That brings us to California Chrome. He would be the first TC winner since the legalization of Lasix in New York in 1995. That alone is the best reason to hope he fails. If he wins, you will never, ever get rid of that raceday diuretic. Many are just fine with that, I am not.
He would also be the first winner to not breeze at all between his Derby and Belmont wins. Again, many don’t care, but I do. I want horses to exercise and develop their way into the history books, not get there due to pharmaceutical interventions sandwiched around jogs/slow gallops.
EDIT: Perhaps a short work is in the plans: “I’ll play it by ear,” Sherman said of a timetable for California Chrome’s pre-race work. “He don’t need much, (just) a half a mile work. I kind of keep them fresh. It’s usually five to six weeks before I even run them. Now, I’m running two major races in five weeks. To me, it’s awful tough on a horse. He’ll get a nice rest after the Belmont.”
I’m no math whiz, but he’s actually running 3 big races in 5 weeks. Assault won the Dwyer 2 weeks after the Belmont, but I digress – I’m sure watching Chrome in his stall for 23 hours a day come late June will be just as thrilling for race-goers.
(As a side note: Chrome wears the FLAIR nasal strip, which is not allowed in New York racing. I’ll Have Another faced the same dilemma a few years back, before scratching the morning of the Belmont with a bad ligament. Amazing how NY legalizes drugs on raceday, but forbids a nasal strip or trip to the hyperbaric chamber. Don’t forget when NYRA legalized Lasix they promised us MORE starts per horse. We all now instead we got less, much less. Dolts.)
I was on the Chrome bandwagon a few weeks before the Derby as I read plenty of stories about strong 2 mile gallops over the track at Los Alamitos. I woke up at 5am for several days to get to the CD backside hoping to clock one of these sessions, but they never happened. Chrome shipped in late and merely jogged a few days with a single slow 1 mile gallop tossed in. He did much the same in the 2 weeks prior to his Preakness win. I don’t think that is good for horseracing, taking the foot of the gas during a Triple Crown campaign. Many trainers smarter than me agree, Carl Nafzger among them.
But there are some good reasons to hope Chrome wins. Number one is he made 10 starts prior to the Derby, spaced roughly a month apart. Good for him, perhaps others will attempt the same – racing them into shape rather than relying on genetic talent to find the winner’s circle. Much like Comma to the Top a few years ago, that type of schedule would never be undertaken with a six figure auction purchase.
Secondly, perhaps a TC champ would put to rest this garbage about spacing out the 3 races further. America’s new motto these days seems to be: ‘Lowering the bar for everyone!’ Don’t condition them like the champs of old, don’t breed for stamina (a crock), don’t eliminate raceday drug use, etc. – but give them more time in between races. Sickening.
Finally, his triumph would expose the relative lack of importance of pedigree. Sure you can go back several generations and find champs on both sides of the family, but you can do that for every $5k claimer as well. Give me 4 $30k athletes over a single $120k yearling purchase with ‘bloodlines’ any day of the week. The last 4 Derby/Preak winners were all purchased for $60k or much less: I’ll Have Another, Big Brown, Smarty Jones, and Funny Cide. Zenyatta? $60k. Curlin? About the same.
Trainer Art Sherman has repeatedly mentioned his lack of desire to run back off 2 weeks rest. Yet we saw arguably Chrome’s best effort against quality competition in the Preakness. As you celebrate these connections just remember that without the lure of the Triple Crown, Chrome would have spent this past Saturday walking the shedrow instead of racing, had Sherman his druthers. Derby horses coming back on 2 weeks rest ran 1-2-4 in the Preakness and none of them will ever run back on short rest again in their careers. Mind-numbing.
That is the kind of crap I am afraid of watching for the next 40+ years should California Chrome triumph at Belmont in 3 weeks. It’s nothing personal, but the performances of our thoroughbreds have been on the decline for decades with the proliferation of raceday drugs, fewer starts per year, and the elimination of stamina-building conditioning protocols; and a big Triple Crown triumph will only detract from fixing those problems.
P.S. I stumbled upon a FB post where a gentleman mentions that the Chrome camp thinks the champ showed some signs of wear and tear after the big Preakness win. That horse is all heart, and sometimes that becomes a champion’s undoing, especially in the face of a non-existent exercise regimen. Often this ‘I want a fresh horse’ B.S. is code for ‘I’m scared to do too much because he’s not been himself in the mornings.’ Another old timer told me I would be shocked at how many big, big races were won by horses who were less than 100% sound at the time.
P.P.S. Funny how the ‘time doesn’t matter’ zombies are all ga-ga over a fast winning time (and Beyer) at the Preakness. You can’t have it both ways. Cutting back in distance and racing off short rest is often a powerful angle with many good horses. And I’m still waiting on the answer to when time does matter? The 2023 Derby over a fast track being won in 2:09? I guess as long as that horse goes on to win his next 2 races then all is well?
P.P.P.S. When is it going to hit Mr. Sherman that his horse was actually stronger and fitter during the Preakness after winning the Derby 14 days earlier? Why already the talk of a nice, long break after the Belmont? At some point doesn’t the performance on the track have to count for something? That’s it, too many questions to ask that will never get answered.
I just can’t shake the feeling that if today’s thoroughbreds need 10 days after a race to get back to normal, that something is wrong with the conditioning behind them. That’s not just my opinion, as any Hall of Famer trainer prior to D. Wayne Lukas would tell you the same thing.
I leave you with a quote from Jimmy Jerkens: “You can’t get ready for a mile and a half keeping him in the barn.” – dammit why isn’t he on the verge of winning the Triple Crown? Keep this in mind should Wicked Strong stop California Chrome’s quest for history in a few weeks time, or any other new shooter for that matter.
If only Sherman would talk that way, even if he was faking it for crying out loud, I could get on board with this horse. Instead I may be the only one not excited for what the next few weeks will bring us.
Edit: Exhibit A-Z: