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:



About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on May 18, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. As thrilling a race as the Preakness was, and a great effort by ROC, I was busy trying to find someone to beat Chrome, I love the horse , the connections, the back story all wonderful, warm fuzzy media attention getters, I failed to realize just how unsubstantial the completion was, having convinced my self they where better than they eventually proved themselves to be. ROc was stellar and SI was gallant but Ill prepared, I just don’t see Chrome making it at the Home of Champions, if Mr. Sherman continues the kid gloves his horse will prove his heart but fall on his sword to the Heart break of tens of thousands, ultimately turning more fans off collectively from racing than drawing new fans in, Racing needs to get rid of the drugs period. And not only racing will thrive but we as a society will improve as well.

  2. Some horses seem to win in spite of their trainers. I was initially excited about Sherman with Chrome, but after listening to his interviews and such I’m surprised the horse is as good as he is. I wonder if Usain Bolt laid off 3 weeks before the olympics to “stay fresh”. It makes me wonder how good Chrome COULD be if he were trained like an athlete ought to be.

    • If trained like Assault and the others: Chrome would have won the Derby against that weak field (still geared down) in 2:01 after leading wire to wire. He also would win the Belmont in 2:28 or better against the same group of plodders. Then he would go on to win another big race, take a brief rest, and come back to compete/win in the Breeder’s Cup.

  3. PractkleeaPirate

    I predict NYRA will approve request and announce intent to examine rule. It’s all about $$$. I read an article this week about the Japanese practice of using vigorous pre-race wamups to reduce risks of bleeding in lieu of Lasix. (The article suggested that Japanese practice is not accepted in U.S. because jocks are/may not be capable of pulling the horse up) Your point about training regimens and the point of pre-race warmup suggest that the industry standards are based on expediency and cost/marketing considerations. The size and location of U.S. racing plants don’t allow for proper conditioning for stamina, as in Europe and Australia, and pre-race lung and spleen preparation practiced in Japan would create risks and require bigger stronger jocks which would change the game. The sport is dying here because the millennials believe the horses are abused. There has to be change. CC winning the TC with or without strip won’t change the perception.

  4. Liam Archdeacon

    I think wishing horses to lose just to prove a point is unhealthy. Your arguments are still valid Bill even if Chrome wins. In my opinion Lasix and these kid glove training methods impact upon injury rates and lifetime starts much more than peak performance anyway. I agree with the previous poster, how good could Chrome be with a more active preperation? Best of luck to Chrome’s connections, you can’t deny that they are acting in good faith and genuinely believe they are doing whats best for the horse. I think they are wrong as well but will be cheering them on regardless.

  5. Liam is absolutely correct. Rooting against California Chrome does nothing to change the sport. A Triple Crown winner would be nothing but good for our sport. It brings the casual fan to consider horse racing as an exciting sport. That is essential. The secretaries at my work place are talking about California Chrome and his nasal strip. No chance would that have happened if he didn’t have a chance for a Triple Crown.
    What we should root for is trainers like Rick Violette who worked his derby candidate with mile long works breezes.

  6. Hi Bill. Absolutely, for my money I wanted Jimmy Jerkens in this position. I could care less who the horses is, but I want an old school trainer who actually conditions by old school means, not Art Sherman who trains/races PRECISELY like a Supertrainer a la Pletcher.

    The secretaries at your work will forget about horseracing by 12 noon on June 8th – yet we will still continue to race under-conditioned horses on a powerful diuretic. Race times will continue to get slower over 10F+ and starts per year will continue to decline. Meanwhile we have catastrophic breakdowns at double the rate of the rest of the world even when controlling for surface.

    The argument that we must change these things if we ever want another TC winner will go out the door – because all the druggie trainers who refuse to work their horses will point to CC’s win as validation of their bullshit practices.

    I just can’t stomach that.

  7. And last night on HBO we were presented with Exhibits A-Z on why Chrome’s TC story is a bad one, merely covering up the legal raceday drug use, of which he is a victim:


  8. I do not want to see CC win Triple Crown for quite another reason. I believe he is a “nice” colt, that is beating for the most part, inferior competition. Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed were all “great” colts. They deserved the honor of that Crown…CC does not!!!

  9. This horse has done everything asked of him lately and all you geniuses want to change the way he’s trained

    • I don’t want to change the way he is trained, I want to change they way they are all trained. Wait, ‘training’ is a misnomer, it does not compare to human training. ‘Training’ horses is really behavioral training – what bit do they prefer, which rider do they like in the mornings, etc. ‘Conditioning’ deals solely with exercise – and I want him to exercise like all other TC champs did under Hall of Fame trainers. That’s all.

      I long for the days of 15 starts per year and Belmont times under 2:30 consistently on a fast track. Instead I get 5-6 starts per year and soon to be the 4th consecutive fast Belmont timed over 2:30. Yeah, I’m a real idiot. I wish we could watch Chrome win the TC and race again in a few weeks, like Assault. Instead we all know, as Sherman has already admitted, that win or lose Chrome is headed for several months of nothing.

      ‘Geniuses’ like you are allowing a once great sport to change for the worse as legal drugs replace actual physical workouts. No longer does the horse that responds best to frequent breezing win races, instead it’s the horse that responds best to furosemide and tapped joints. US horses breakdown 3x more often than those in other countries (when controlling for surface) – and you point to a single one of them winning 2 races in 2 weeks as a success story.

      It’s your fault we are in this mess. When will you see it my way? In 2032 when the avg 3yo starts 3 times per year and wins the Derby in 2:09? Because that is precisely where the trendlines are headed.

      But I guess not, as long as the same horse goes onto win the Preakness you will be enthralled with the ‘training’ job and criticize anyone who thinks differently.

    • Other classic winners have worked fast before major events, including Nashua, Count Fleet and Secretariat. But Risen Star`s work appears to be the fastest before a classic race since 1950 Belmont winner Middleground worked 3 furlongs the day before in 33 1/5.

      Bill Boland, Middleground`s jockey and now a trainer at Belmont, said Friday morning that Middleground also blew out an eighth of a mile on the morning of the race.

      Boland said the work was what Middleground`s trainer, Max Hirsch, asked for.

      “That`s what he wanted,“ Boland said. “He came out of the work perfect and he won easy, but Mr. Hirsch worked all his horses like that the day before a race.“

      Risen Star went on to win by 14+ lengths, of course, trainer Roussel got somewhat lucky. Max Hirsch is a legend. Art Sherman is no legend, but he may very well continue to get lucky.

      I happen to think a horse galloping aggressively and breezing long and hard throughout winning a TC campaign is more impressive than one winning those 3 races with nary a work in between. The first method means that athleticism is due to physiological responses to exercise; the second method is dependent upon mere talent and/or superior response to pharmaceuticals.

      A win is not always a win.

      • Bill, You are brilliant! I admire every thing you say! With the lack of ”work” and proper conditoning…This is why altitude simulation works so much better on Thoroughbreds as compared to Harness and all other Equine disciplines! Thank you for your constant insight! It’s GREAT! Keep ”fighting the fight”!

  10. Just read a DRF article on the “Slowing of the Belmont” by Andrew Beyer. He remarks on the the slowing times in the last decade as you have. His conclusion is different.. He alludes to the current drug testing on “milkshakes” and steroids as the difference.
    it is surprising that he doesn’t look at he change in training methods.
    Hopefully, someone will train race horses as Olympian athletes – CONDITIONING.

  11. Where did people get the idea that a “fresh” horse is better than a fit horse?

  12. Phillip Haycock

    Hi Bill
    In these modern times, could a case be made that the triple crown races might be better suited to 4YO horses??
    Your probably correct in your view that the modern racehorse lacks conditioning but realistically what are the odds of this lack ever being addressed.
    Personally I think that to properly condition a modern 3YO Thoroughbred to contest the triple crown is a big ask.
    Remembering that 1978 was 36 years ago and a lot of breeding has happened since then.
    Maybe the Thoroughbred horse has changed.

  13. I am ashamed to live in these modern times where everyone wants instant gratification without putting forth the effort! We live in a time where we don’t keep score in little league games and all are given a large trophy for just participating! The Triple Crown of horse racing does not need to be made easier or changed! What is going on in this country!? How about this one… We split the purse money evenly with all the horses who participated and give them a blue ribbon and a picture! Come on people!!!

  14. Phillip Haycock

    Sure Crocker but 36 yrs is hardly instant gratification.
    In some ways the triple crown really needs to be won soon to keep the dream alive and attainable.
    Ideally it should be won every 10 years by real horses with real prepotentcy, not every 40 years by some sort of hybridized freak of nature,
    Adding a year of age to the competitors may be a better option than shortening distances or stagnating with a status quo.
    There is a lot of buzz here about the owners rant. Personally I feel that although he could have done a better job of his interview he is just human and had run each race along side his horse, feeling the fatigue of every stride with the horse.
    He is obviously very aware and respectful of his horse.
    In my opinion there is merit to his basic point.
    His horse earned its place at Belmont.

  15. I’m wondering if you have a recommendation on a specific HR/GPS monitor? I’m beginning my search in anticipation of purchasing in the hopefully not-to-distant future, and could think of nobody as knowledgeable as yourself in this area. Your advice would be most appreciated. Thanks very much for your time.

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