15 days from now a field of ten or more young horses will enter the starting gate for the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes. It is a race that will evoke strong emotion from the richest owner, to the hard working men and women that toil on the backstretch on a daily basis. Whether a fan of the Sport of Kings for multiple decades, or one that has begun watching the game only recently, no one will be immune from the desire to see something worth remembering. It matters little if you’ve backed California Chrome from the beginning, or not, racing fans have never been more ready for a new champion to exalt in.
In 1973, the racing world felt a similar frustration and yearning. It had been 25 long years since Citation topped off a wonderful decade for racing with a dominating win in the Belmont Stakes to become the 8th winner of America’s Triple Crown. At the time, 41 years ago, followers of the sport wondered if the horses of that era still had what it took to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont. All that frustration bubbled over into joy and exultation when a powerful chestnut ran the greatest race ever seen on United States soil.
Big Red stoked the fires of the crowd into a fever pitch from the moment he began to leave his rival Sham behind on the backstretch, through every purposeful stride until the wire. Fans at Belmont Park came together wildly in a group celebration for an equine hero. For those lucky enough to be there on June the 9th, it represents a unique moment in time that will be taken to the grave. And what a way to break the drought. 31 lengths. World record time. A nation rejoiced. Secretariat was exactly what everyone had been waiting for.
Soon after, Seattle Slew, and then Affirmed would carve out their own unique place in the history books, as Triple Crown winners numbers ten and eleven. The Triple Crown was no longer a mysterious, and legendary achievement, but rather something that the right horse could do. Three horses did it within six years; who would be next?
The Triple Crown would not take long to take a turn to the seemingly impossible again. It’s hard to say how many horses were better than Spectacular Bid in modern racing, but the list is short. With each powerful win of a dozen in a row, he assured race fans that he would become the fourth horse to be crowned within the golden decade of racing.
Maybe Buddy Delp was too brash. Maybe Ronnie Franklin should never have been placed into such an important moment. Or perhaps the difference in becoming a Triple Crown winner, or not, can be measured on the tip of a safety pin. The unthinkable happened. Spectacular Bid was beaten, and a brand new dry spell for racing began.
Teased for so long since, we are now ready. 36 years ready. Will it be another copper colored colt glistening in the New York sun on June 7, 2014? It’s all up to California Chrome now. He will do it, if, and only if, he is the right horse. For the sake of race fans everywhere, I hope he is.