One of many great quotes from Joel and Ethan Coen’s comedic masterpiece, The Big Lebowski, goes like this … “Sometimes you eat the bear, but sometimes the bear eats you.” For Skychai Racing LLC and Starlight Racing’s General a Rod, I feel like there has been a whole lot more of the latter going on lately. Now you certainly can take that as California Chrome being the grizzly in question, but I think there is a little more to the story for the good General.
Since celebrating New Year’s Day while winning a spirited battle over Wildcat Red in the Gulfstream Park Derby, the son of Roman Ruler has been beaten down by the bear in four straight. 2nd in the Fountain of Youth, 3rd in the Florida Derby, 11th in the Kentucky Derby, and 4th in the Preakness. You may think that General A Rod has had his chances against the best of his generation, and has failed. Maybe. The majority of bettors will agree with that assessment when they send him off at odds of higher than 20-1 in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, but still I find reason to believe he may be sitting on a big one, and I’m not the only one.
“I see no reason not to go,” his trainer Mike Maker said in speaking of the Belmont Stakes. “There was no reason to rush into a decision, in my opinion. We waited it out, and the horse [General A Rod] told us to go. I felt good before the Preakness and I feel good before the Belmont. One of these times we’re going to have a clean run and go from there.”
And with that announcement yesterday, we not only confirmed the General for the Test of the Champion, but we also saw just a little frustration from Maker regarding the phenomena so eloquently and plainly explained by the Coen brothers. I understand it, and I don’t think Maker is crazy for thinking that with a little luck, his charge could have done a whole lot better lately.
In his Gulfstream Park losses, General A Rod had to chase and try to stay close to a quicker horse in Wildcat Red over a speed favoring racing stip. In neither the Fountain of Youth, nor the Florida Derby, did General A Rod benefit from any help early. Despite this, he never gave up, and was very much in the picture in the finish. At Churchill Downs, he was rated, but was shuffled back, and was in tight, still he finished the ten furlong classic well, and was closer at the finish then he had been during most of the race. Finally, the Preakness may have been his unluckiest cut of all.
Full of run on the far turn, General A Rod was completely shut off by the rapidly retreating filly, Ria Antonia. When the filly had enough, General A Rod had nowhere to go but back. It left him with no chance to win the race, but to his credit, when he finally had clear running again, he kept running down the Pimlico stretch, and fell but one jump short of gaining third. Is this enough to think he has a real shot in the Belmont?
Possibly, especially when you look at the way he is finishing his races. I also fully expect him to be closer to the pace in the Belmont, which should give him a grinder’s chance when they hit the top of the stretch. As a son of a Dynaformer mare, I have every reason to believe that he will have something left in the tank for that seemingly endless stretch run of the Belmont Stakes.
Hoping to give a big assist to General A Rod’s reversal of fortune in the Belmont will be none other than Rosie Napravnik. Proven to be one of the top riders in the nation in recent years, Rosie needs to add a first victory in a Triple Crown race to her quickly expanding resume. Whether or not it happens with General A Rod is a big question, but it will happen for the talented New Jersey native sooner or later. After being rated in the first two legs, look for Napravnik to utilize some of General A Rod’s natural speed to keep him in touch in the early going, which is a strategy that has worked well in the Belmont more often than not. Improved racing luck and Rosie could be a valuable combination.
Don’t get me wrong; just like so many of you reading this, I want Califonia Chrome to win on Saturday. I want to celebrate the first Triple Crown in forever with 120,000 of my closest and craziest friends in New York. I crave the combination of joy and pandemonium that I have not experienced for so long.