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Fading California Chrome

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Editor’s Note: Don’t miss out on Anthony “Big A” Stabile’s horse racing winners for the 2014 Belmont Stakes. Click to win!

If you’ve come here looking for another feel-good story about California Chrome and his quest to become the 12th Triple Crown champion as the racing world counts the hours down to Belmont Stakes 146 you’ve come to the wrong place.
 
If tales about how his mare cost $8,000 and $2,500 to breed to his sire, Lucky Pulpit, bring a tear to your eye or make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, this story isn’t for you.
 
If you’re rooting for his salt-of-the-earth owners who keep going to their day jobs, his jockey Victor Espinoza who’s getting a second shot at the Triple Crown or his 77 year-old trainer Art Sherman, who we all know by now, rode the train with Swaps to Kentucky for his Derby score as his exercise rider over 50 years ago, you may want to stop reading now.
 
You see, we’re not California Chrome fans in these parts. I don’t buy into him saving the sport with a Triple Crown win. We have plenty of problems and there are plenty of solutions but he’s not one of them. In fact, he’s served his purpose. He’s gotten the sport some mainstream attention, like the connections throwing out the first pitch at a Yankees game and Espinoza going on the Late Show with David Letterman. That’s all that’s really needed – the build-up and anticipation. Get people talking and get them into Belmont Park on the big day.  
 
If you’re still with me, I’m here to tell you why California Chrome WILL NOT win the Belmont Stakes this Saturday. And I’m going to lay it out the same way I did when I told you Big Brown wouldn’t win back in 2008. So put down the California Chrome Kool Aid, if you’re one of those partaking, and listen up.
 
THE PACE SCENARIO – Unlike in the Derby and Preakness where there was an abundance of early speed on paper and enough on the track for him to stalk perfectly, I think he’s going to be on the chase of General a Rod in the Belmont. Or, even worse, he may find himself on the front end, protecting his post 2 draw and hoping the old “you can’t get in trouble on the lead” adage rings true for just 12 more furlongs. Either way, it appears to me that he’s finally going to have to do some of the heavy lifting on Saturday.
 
VICTOR ESPINOZA – Last time I checked, Espinoza wasn’t one of the most revered or reliable riders in the country. In fact, he’s been on a downward trend the past few years on the national level and isn’t a guy that’s even on my radar. And the last time he was in this position, he completely panicked and dropped the ball after breaking poorly. Many will say I’m being harsh considering how bad War Emblem broke in the 2002 Belmont Stakes but I don’t think I am. You break poorly, you deal with it. You have 12 furlongs to figure it out!!! His ride was abysmal. Who knows how he’ll react if he faces some adversity again.
 
THE DISTANCE – Saying this horse is modestly bred is an insult to modestly bred horses nationwide. You’ll hear some people talk about going back in his pedigree and finding plenty of stamina, but that’s usually the case with every horse. The pedigree game can get tricky like that. It’s like when the ancients did a rain dance. The only reason the rain dances worked is because they danced until it rained. Go far enough back and you’ll justify this horse getting the distance.
 
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Perhaps a bigger problem in this department is the fact that a few in here have excellent distance pedigrees. Commissioner’s sire and both grandsires won the Belmont Stakes, an insanely remarkable point. Tonalist has a ton of distance pedigree on his female side. Wicked Strong looks like a horse that wants to run all day. Commanding Curve and Ride On Curlin, second in the Derby and Preakness, respectively, were both running at him at the end of those races.
 
TRENDS - It took well over 100 years for it to happen, but when Commendable upset the 2000 Belmont he became the first horse ever to win having last raced in the Derby. Since 2000, it’s happened six more times. Commanding Curve, Samraat, Wicked Strong and Medal Count all fall under that category this year.
 
Since 1996 only two horses that have won the Derby and/or Preakness have come back to win the Belmont. They are a pair of Preakness winners, Point Given in 2001 and Afleet Alex in 2005.
 
No Triple Crown winner has defeated more than seven rivals in the final jewel. Both Citation in 1948 and Seattle Slew in 1977 accomplished the feat. 10 challengers are set to face California Chrome.
 
Finally, each and every Triple Crown winner has had a race over the course prior to the Belmont.
 
EAST COAST BIAS – Forget about the fact that no horse based on the West Coast has ever won the Triple Crown. Rather than that, focus on the fact that this horse hasn’t been in his own stall at Los Alamitos in over a month. He’s called three places home in that time and has to up and move just as he’s settling in. Imagine a sports team being on the road for five weeks. Would you like their chances? Meanwhile, Commissioner, Matterhorn, Wicked Strong, Matuszak and Tonalist get to make the walkover from their home base while Samraat has just a short van ride over from Aqueduct.
 
MURPHY’S LAW – I dare you to find me a racing expert that can show you a horse attempting to win the Triple Crown that has had more perfect trips on the Derby Trail and in the first two Triple Crown races than this horse. At some point, the luck has to run out. California Chrome has a penchant for getting antsy and rocking back and forth in the gate. If that gate opens while he’s rocking backwards on Saturday, he’s done.
 
KARMA – Trainer Art Sherman started this, saying he’s not superstitious but that he brought his lucky suit with him for the Belmont, the same one he wore to the Derby and the Preakness. So I wasn’t going to evoke the images of the Racing Gods but he’s given me license to with the suit. The horse runs around the racetrack with a jockey on his back that’s wearing purple silks with a green jackass on his back and a “DAP” path on the front that stands for Dumb Ass Partners. Does anyone really think those silks should hang in the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs next to the blue and red of Calumet Farms, the pink, white and black of Harbor View Farms or the white and blue checkered silks of Meadow Stables? If they are out there, that Kool Aid must be REALLY strong.
 

  
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Mike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year round as well as Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the Triple Crown, and the Breeders’ Cup.
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