Chrome vs. Big Sandy
June 3, 2014
By Anthony Stabile
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Triple Crown Failures
The old adage says that there are a million ways to lose a horse race but just one way to win. Ask any horseman or horsewoman stabled at any racetrack in the world and nearly every one of them would echo that sentiment.
On Saturday, California Chrome will walk over from barn 26 at beautiful Belmont Park carrying the hopes of his connections and those of thousands of adoring fans onto the racetrack looking for that one way to win the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes and become the twelfth Triple Crown winner.
The last six times the starter has sprung the latch on the starting gate, California Chrome has turned away each and every one of his rivals, including the 18 that faced him in the Kentucky Derby and the nine who tried him in the Preakness.
Close to a dozen challengers and a slew of other obstacles will await him. A majority of the tangible obstacles, like a good post position and clean trip, are things horses face every time they race. Jinxes, curses and racing gods, well they’re a story for another time.
Here in New York, Belmont Park throws one more monkey wrench at Belmont Stakes runners and that’s Belmont Park. What I mean by that is the twelve-furlong racecourse that, depending on your outlook or outcome, has been happily or ominously dubbed “Big Sandy.”
Giant sweeping turns……furlongs of straightaway…..a surprisingly short stretch at just around a quarter of a mile…..Belmont Park is the only main track of its kind in the world. The Belmont is once around the 1 ½ mile oval. It’s worth noting that all 11 Triple Crown winners had raced over the track at least once in their careers prior to “The Test of the Champion.
Located in Elmont, NY, a part of Nassau County on Long Island, it has sat on Hempstead Turnpike for well over a century. But for 11 days over the past 36 years, Hempstead Turnpike has turned into the Boulevard of Broken Dreams for the last 11 who’ve tried to reach the zenith.
Come Saturday evening, the magic number will be 12, as in 12 Triple Crown winners or 12 who have failed in their attempt since Affirmed got it done back in 1978. Here’s another important 12: the 12 furlong markers that sit around the Belmont Park course, starting at the gate.
The Starting Gate – You have so much time to recover if something goes wrong so how important can the start be of a 1 ½ mile race? The answer is plenty, as evident by War Emblem who was slammed at the start in 2002. His rider, coincidentally, was California Chrome’s rider Victor Espinoza, who grudgingly decided this year to ride at Belmont the week prior to the race..
Eleven Furlong Pole – It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the U.S. Just an eighth of a mile into the race one would think it would be nearly impossible for anything earth shattering to happen. In 2008, this is where Kent Desormeaux and Big Brown began to panic and make their escape from the rail draw.
Ten Furlong Pole – 1 ¼ mile races, like the Jockey Club Gold Cup, start here. It’s right on the bend of the clubhouse turn. Speed types, namely Funny Cide in 2003 established their front running position here.
Nine Furlong Pole – Now we’re getting into some normalcy. Arlington Park has one of these…..it’s called the finish line. Back in 1981, Pleasant Colony was shuffling back towards the rear as the field raced midway on the first turn.
Mile Pole – This is the finish line at most tracks as most tracks are one mile ovals. Stewart Elliott famously committed Smarty Jones to the lead, just a half mile into the race, here in 2004.
Seven Furlong Pole – The second of nearly four furlongs of straightaway. If you watch closely, this is where Desormeaux started getting a bit antsy on Real Quiet in 1998, likely thinking there was just a half-mile or so left in the race.
Six Furlong Pole – You’re halfway home. Espinoza finally let War Emblem roll a bit along the inside at this point after having him bottled up for most of the backside run behind a wall of three horses.
Five Furlong Pole – This is where business starts to really pick up. Real Quiet started to make a serious run here. War Emblem stuck his head in front. Empire Maker began to close in on his rival Funny Cide. Sunday Silence and Easy Goer moved as a team in 1989.
Half Mile Pole – You’re on the far turn now. Spectacular Bid tried to sneak away here in 1979, injured hoof and all. Smarty Jones shrugged off Rock Hard Ten and opened up on the rest. In 1999, Charismatic really put the pressure on the filly Silverbulletday at this point.
Three Furlong Pole – A fever pitched is reached midway on the far turn. It seems that this is the place where everything goes down. Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Charismatic all hit the lead for the first time here. Alysheba, who struggled through most of the Belmont in 1987, got into some traffic trouble here, essentially eliminating himself from contention. War Emblem’s day was done. Funny Cide began his fade. Desormeaux asked Big Brown who failed to answer positively.
Quarter Pole – …..and the field turns for home!! Big Brown was eased here. Easy Goer vanquished Sunday Silence. You could tell Pleasant Colony wasn’t getting the money.
Eighth Pole - Five of the last 11 attempts were still alive in or around this point. Spectacular Bid just about gave it up to Coastal. Charismatic was surrounded and passed by one-two finishers Lemon Drop Kid and Vision and Verse. Silver Charm didn’t see a rerallying Touch Gold on the far outside. Yards before the wire, Birdstone ran past Smarty Jones. And Victory Gallop put his head down exactly on the money to deny Real Quiet.
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