We just might have ourselves a Triple Crown winner! Not since Affirmed clenched the three jewels in 1978 has a horse worn all three winner circle flower blankets, yet California Chrome seems to be standing on the precipice of history as the Belmont Stakes looms. Now that the nasal strip hoopla has been rectified with the dynamic colt getting a unanimous go-ahead from Belmont Park’s stewards, the only thing stopping Chrome is the daunting mile-and-a-half track of the Belmont Stakes.
California Chrome at the finish line of the Preakness Stakes.
Photo by Jay Baker at Baltimore, MD.
California Chrome, came into this year’s Triple Crown contention as somewhat of an unknown, an unlikely champ seemingly tailor-made for the next big Hollywood biopic. But ever since he crushed the field in the Santa Anita Derby in April (see video below), the three-year-old colt has been the talk of the town. He breezed by the competition at the Kentucky Derby, easily handling a field of 18, winning by a length and three-quarters, following that up two short weeks later – the quickest race turnaround for Chrome – squeaking by in the Preakness Stakes, taking the lead in the last turn and holding it to finish by little less than a length. Now all that’s left is Belmont.
The Belmont Stakes has a reputation of being the dream crusher – just ask I’ll Have Another (scratched in 2012), Big Brown in 2008 (finished tenth), Smarty Jones in 2004 (finished second), Funny Cide in 2003 (finished third), War Emblem in 2002 (finished eighth) – all recent Triple Crown contenders, all falling short in the final leg; it’s not called “The Test of the Champions” for nothing. The silver lining in all of this is that California Chrome is not alone in terms of facing the behemoth of Belmont. Few, if any, thoroughbred horse breeders are in it to produce horses that specifically run a mile-and-a-half in the dirt for the simple truth that the Belmont Stakes is the only one of its kind in Grade 1 racing – there simply isn’t enough money in it. A race at this length is new territory to the field, not just the Triple Crown contender, so expect Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza to use the same strategy that worked in the previous two races: get off to a steady start, keep from getting boxed in and push the pace on the final turn. If they can find a good rhythm in the backstretch, odds will be in the chestnut colt’s favor, which shows in the betting lines. With a potential field as large as eleven come race day, Chrome has drawn the no. 2 position wih adjusted odds of 3-5 (as of June 4). Of Chrome’s top competition, two come as no suprise: Preakness Stakes’ runner-up, Ride On Curlin, sitting in position no. 5 with 12-1 odds, and Wicked Strong, who finished fourth in the Derby and is currently sitting at 6-1 odds in position no. 9; yet Tonalist (no. 11, 8-1 odds) just might be the darkhorse, who missed the Derby due to a lung infection, just might steal Chrome’s thunder in that brutal final half mile.
Now, if California Chrome’s humble racing beginnings have not made you a fan yet, consider this: This is not Victor Espinoza’s first Triple Crown bid as a jockey. In 2002, while manning the aforementioned War Emblem, the duo breezed into Belmont Park with easy victories in the Derby and Preakness, but literally stumbled out of the gate at Belmont, finishing in a heartbreaking eighth. Hopes are that June 7 proves to be Espinoza’s day of redemption, not only for team California Chrome, but thoroughbred racing in general – the sport could use new Triple Crown champ.
For those not making the trek to Kentucky, Maryland or New York this year to catch the action, you can still play along at home with the official cocktail recipes of the Triple Crown.
My Old Kentucky Home
As the thoroughbreds thunder down the track at Churchill Downs, sip the Kentucky Derby’s official beverage, the mint julep.
Maryland, My Maryland
The middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, boasts an ever-changing Black-Eyed Susan as its official tipple.
New York, New York
The Triple Crown wraps with the marathon at Belmont. Here, we offer the gamut of Belmont Stakes bevvies, from first to the latest.
Sip this tropical concoction: the Derby Daiquiri, the Florida Derby’s official cocktail by way of tiki bar champion Mai-Kai.
A little background on California Chrome:
The first California-born horse to win the Kentucky Derby in 52 years, California Chrome was groomed for its Triple Crown bid by Art Sherman. A California thoroughbred racing circuit mainstay for more than 60 years (first as an exercise rider, then jockey, and now trainer), California Chrome was Sherman’s first starter in the Kentucky Derby as a trainer, which makes this story somewhat different—a 77-year-old Kentucky Derby maiden brining in a favorite, but it’s the colt’s pedigree that has people doing a double take.
Owned by Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, California Chrome is a homebred foray into thoroughbred racing, with the two buying Chrome’s dam, Love the Chase, for $8,000, breeding her with Lucky Pulpit for a mere $2,500 fee. After breezing to a one and three-quarter length win at the Derby, California Chrome has earned an impressive $2,337,800 as a three-year-old.
California Chrome caught the collective thoroughbred racing eye after his commanding win at the Santa Anita Derby, his debut to Grade 1 racing and its fourth win in a row—it was an impressive win as the video below illustrates (No. 5, lime green silks).
Fresh off his impressive Kentucky Derby victory, California Chrome began his potential history-making run at the vaunted Triple Crown. One of the hardest feats in sport, the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, has long been put out to pasture, claiming thoroughbred glory in 1978, a full 36 years ago. Below is California Chrome’s impressive Run for the Roses.
California Chrome, no. 5, green silks.