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Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
The Kentucky Derby Post

2014 Triple Crown: California Chrome Is Different

California Chrome win circle 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers


The chance for the long awaited thrill has arrived once again. This time, however, is different. Although we like to compare our current athletes to the legendary faces and names of the past, I can’t help but to view this champion individually. California Chrome has just scored the first two legs of the 2014 Triple Crown. Along with that comes the name of a horse we all know so well. Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978 thirty five years have passed without another.  


The drought has been plagued with near misses. Since Affirmed, twelve different horses, that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, came up short, or did not enter the Belmont Stakes.


However, maybe the Triple Crown should sometimes be looked at as more difficult rather than impossible. The Belmont didn’t get coined the “Test of a Champion” without the proper merits. The distance itself should prove that this epic challenge is by far one of the most unnerving events in sports. Just imagine how long these next three weeks are really going to be for Team DAP.


Enough with the task at hand, can California Chrome win the 2014 Belmont Stakes? In case I haven’t led you on enough, let me be clear; it’s 100% achievable.


So then, when it comes to racing and not the connections, what separates California Chrome from the last 12 horses that failed to win on Big Sandy? For some there may be very few as the amount of similarities are vast. But, for me, there are just enough to look at his chances much differently than I did with some of the others.


The first thing that jumps out at everyone is how easily he has been winning. There have been zero thrills in the final furlong in each of the first two legs. No comparisons of Smarty Jones chasing down the front running Lion Heart in the mud in 2004. No rubber match as highly anticipated as Funny Cide vs. Empire Maker in 2003. No gutsy moves from the middle back to win the Preakness Stakes like Pleasant Colony in 1981.


Finally, we won’t see any round three matchups in 2014 like we saw with some of the most classic bouts in Triple Crown history; Alysheba vs. Bet Twice, Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer, Real Quiet vs. Victory Gallop, Charismatic vs. Menifee.


In all four of these Belmont Stakes the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes runner-up would get one more shot at their rival. In all but the last, the runner-up became the Belmont Stakes champ.


In a similar situation Silver Charm would meet Free House yet again. The two knew each other all too well. They faced off practically every step of the way en route from California to Kentucky and it was only fitting that they battled it out down the stretch in each of the first two legs before meeting one more time in the Belmont Stakes.


Neither of them would prevail as it was Touch Gold’s day but that year was another example of how much excitement there is when two powerful horses meet for the third time and one last time for all the marbles.


Yet in 2014, it’s only the California Chrome show. Some may say that this year lacks the talent. You could also get into this argument from a number of different angles; he can’t carry the distance, the pace was too slow, the best horses skipped the Preakness.


Sure, these are points that can be made but unfortunately they don’t answer this one regarding why he is winning so easily. Is California Chrome just too good?


Ride on Curlin made an extremely bold move from well off the pace in the Preakness Stakes to find the position he wanted; striking distance in the final furlong. But as flawless as his move was, weaving through the field to get there, it was all for not, as he never had a chance at passing the Chrome.


In both races, all I’ve seen is California Chrome own the field with such ease. And that is so much different than these other years. The competition may look lackluster but it’s too hard to tell because when one athlete is so superior it makes it tough to positively judge his opposition.


What’s also striking to almost everyone is how smooth Victor Espinoza is in the saddle. When you look back and watch the 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes there are some very similar things that you might find in contrast to how he rides California Chrome.


Both horses were forwardly placed as they liked to be in or on the lead through the first turn and backstretch. The most recognizable resemblance is that both horses had the lead at the top of the stretch.


But, if you look closely, the biggest difference is how busy Espinoza was with War Emblem. The amount of activity with the whip and how hard he had to hustle War Emblem home is vastly different to how he’s piloting California Chrome in the final furlong. In both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes the race was already in hand at this stage of the race so all Espinoza was really doing here was checking his rear view mirrors.


Although, California Chrome is responsible for the majority of the work I will never underestimate the brilliance of a rider. When it comes to Victor Espinoza there is something else that is different about him when compared to the other jockeys that rode their Triple Crown hopefuls into the Belmont Stakes.


There is one exception but when it comes to Big Brown I have a very hard time actually considering him a legitimate Triple Crown contender. There were too many things wrong with his connections and how he got to where he was leading up to the Belmont Stakes. So, unfortunately for Kent Desormeaux, he will not be compared to Victor Espinoza here. Plus Big Brown got hurt in the race which resulted in a DNF. 


In all 11 of the other Triple Crown bids since 1978 each jockey had never been in this position before. Now that’s not to say that the riders were at fault but it is something that has been talked about. In 1979, Spectacular Bid’s attempt to become the third consecutive Triple Crown winner and fourth in seven years was overcome by a couple of variables. First is the infamous safety pin but there also is the claim that jockey Ronnie Franklin was too aggressive too soon.


Parallel were the assertions that Chris Antley veered away from the winning strategy by moving Charismatic too far to the front early in the race in 1999.


But, jockeys have to make quick decisions and their horses may have prevented them from choosing any other option. So, we will never know exactly how each race would have ended had the strategy been executed.


However, regardless of how good any of them were, how many would have been in a better position had they been there before? And that’s where California Chrome has such a unique difference compared the other Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners since Affirmed.


The Belmont Stakes is the most difficult for a number of reasons but the distance and the size of the track are the most legitimate. The horse has to be ready for it but the jockey has to be in control at all times and make all the right moves. This is not to take anything away from the great jockey’s that missed but there's just something about this rider and his three-year-old. Experience could be the key and Victor Espinoza has it.


On another front there’s still time to make things right. The horse racing industry needs this, the fans want this even more. With the whole #nasalgate scandal impeding the quality of the story I think California Chrome will be in the starting gate at Belmont Park on June 7. I don’t care who wins the petty and embarrassing argument, I only care that we move ahead. And if we do, California Chrome has such a chance at truly becoming America’s Horse and the next Triple Crown winner.  


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Older Comments about 2014 Triple Crown: California Chrome Is Different...

The NYRA Stewards have approved the nasal strip for the Belmont Stakes!
  • Barbizon Streak · I can't believe that Chrome's nasal strip was ever an issue. Doesn't the cited rule state that any equipment used by both horses and jockeys has to be approved by the NYRA? Nobody seemed to mention that fact that Pat Day used to wear a nasal strip all the time and that included when he rode in NY. I doubt seriously that any of the NYRA Stewards gave it a second thought, so why would they make an issue out of Chrome? Go CC, show 'em all! · 1247 days ago
I'm not quite buying the argument that you can't make a Smarty Jones comparison solely due to the fact that Smarty got his lead slightly later in the race than CC. Smarty also had mud to deal with, not to mention a less favorable post position.
  • Show All 3 Comments
  • amino998 · nice call, rachel. · 1250 days ago
  • Barbizon Streak · I agree with Rachel. Stewart Elliott did not ride a single race at Belmont before the big race and completely misjudged the distance from the middle of the turn. He let Smarty loose way too early and had too much ground left to cover. I also believe that some of the other jockeys in the race did not want Smarty's journeyman jockey to win the Triple Crown and sacrificed their own horses to push the pace. Unfortunately, Stewart Elliott fell for it and pushed Smarty to the lead towards the end of the backstretch. His ride in the Preakness also hurt Smarty for the Belmont. There was no need to ride Smarty to a record 11-length win when he could have saved more horse for the Belmont. Smarty was still good enough to win the TC if Elliott would have waited another pole before letting Smarty burst out to a 4-length lead. · 1248 days ago
I think he is different than Brown, Cide, Smarty in that I didnt' think they'd win. I was 100% IHA would do it, which is why I am cautious with Chrome.
I think he is different than Brown, Cide, Smarty in that I didnt' think they'd win. I was 100% IHA would do it, which is why I am cautious with Chrome.
Chrome is different? They are all different until they hit the 8th pole at Belmont. Scribes loved them all from Charm, Smarty, Cide, Brown. Don
I feel like he is going to win! I agree that there is something about him....Can't really put my finger on it. I felt the same way about I'll Have Another and was really sad when he was scratched. I was also sure about Spectacular Bid and still feel he was one of the greatest of all time - that was a bad deal for him that he lost the Triple Crown glory!
Since the last 12 to try are 0fers, no, it's not such a sure thing.
You're welcome, Jb. I love the "sanity finally prevails" tweet.
I don't see California Chrome as such a sure thing. I think it remains to be seen if he can hold off Ride On Curlin for another 5/16's of a mile. Also, I consider Commanding Curve and Danza a few lengths better than Ride on Curlin. Danza lost a few lengths in deep stretch trying to get around Samraat in the Kentucky Derby. California Chrome was already gone by the time he got clear sailing. I just don't see California Chrome winning the Belmont.
Thank god, NYRA is finally being smart, thanks goblin
Jbyrnes1, Conversation on DRF twitter confirms. https://twitter.com/DRFPrivman
Seriously?! I'm so happy, and not too surprised! It is ultimately to the advantage of all the involved parties for them to have done so. :)
@TheNYRA DUMBASS...what a way to dilute the game http://fiveminutestopost.blogspot.com/2014/05/california-chromes-connection-shouldnt.html … @CaliforniaChrom #belmontstakes #Triplecrown #californiachrome
AndyScoggin, where are you hearing that information
Smarty Jones won the Preakness by 12 lengths and it seemed like he would dominate the Belmont.
Well done,Bravo

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About Me

Meet Bryan Brinkmeyer – Chicago, IL


Growing up across the river from the Bluegrass State I was able to spend a lot of summer days at Ellis Park, Henderson, KY. 


In the spring of 2000, I made my inaugural Kentucky Derby appearance and the tradition continues because there is no other city in the racing world like Louisville, KY on Derby Day. 


Although the story of a Kentucky Derby winner is legendary, a champions trail is what The Kentucky Derby Post is all about. The coverage begins when Juvenile season starts and continues until the field is set, the picks are in and the roses are awarded. 



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