Can California Chrome win the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2014?
by Trevor Whenham - 10/23/2014
I was two years old the last time a Triple Crown was won. Soon after I became obsessed with horse racing, and I was particularly obsessed with seeing another Triple Crown winner. That desire grows with each passing year and each near miss. Despite wanting to see a Triple Crown more than anything, I never got on the California Chrome bandwagon for some reason. I doubted him in the Preakness, really doubted him in the Belmont, and was happy to bet against him in his return to action last month.
It's not that I think he's a bad horse - he is obviously far from it. I just haven't believed he has the connections or breeding to garner the attention he has from bettors. So, can California Chrome win the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2014? I lean towards skepticism, but let's break down the factors that will help determine his fate:
Experience: There are a few things you can knock this horse for - and I will soon enough - but a lack of experience is certainly not one of them. He has raced 14 times in his career - twice as much as rival and likely Classic favorite Shared Belief. You can break that career into three distinct eras - the first six races in which he was completely ordinary, the next six in which he was unbeatable and barely mortal, and his last two that have been quite disappointing. It's important to note, too, that just one of those races has been in the last five months.
Recent form: It's pretty easy to sum up Chrome's recent form - he doesn't have any. He has raced only once since a very flat performance in the Belmont - the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 20. Facing off against Bayern, Candy Boy and others in a deep field, Chrome was a total non-factor. He got caught inside and had no response when he was asked to make a move. It was pretty awful. The challenge, though, is to determine what the bad effort means. He was coming off a three-and-a-half-month layoff - by far the longest of his career. Was he just flat, needing a race effort to get back into form? Or should two poor performances in a row concern us and make us question if he will recapture his stunning spring form?
Three year old: Normally the fact that he is a three year old heading into the Classic would be a concern. This is a very tough race, and just two of the last 13 winners have been three. This is not a normal year, though. The best of the older horses have been injured, so the top four likely favorites in the Classic are likely to be three year olds.
Trainer: Art Sherman is 77 years old, and he is about as old school as a guy can be. He's also out of his element here. He has been training since 1979, but prior to this horse he had trained just four Grade 1 stakes winners, and he hasn't come close to Breeders' Cup success. The Triple Crown was new to him as well, and he did just fine there until he didn't - he gets at least a portion of the blame for the horse's struggles in the Belmont. Sherman is not a major asset here.
Jockey: Victor Espinoza has been on this horse for eight races - the first six of which were wins. He has a strong relationship with the horse - though it hasn't been as evident the last two outings. Espinoza has four Triple Crown race wins and more than 3,100 career wins. Given all that success, you would expect him to have had more success at the Breeders' Cup than he has had. He has just one win - in the Distaff on Spain way back in 2000. Espinoza is an asset on this horse but not as much of one as he could be if he had more success at the Championships over the year.
Opponent quality: This is, by a wide margin, the toughest field Chrome has faced in his career. As much as I liked several of the Triple Crown horses this year, the fact is that it wasn't a particularly impressive group. Horses like Bayern and Tonalist have emerged from that group and improved, but the fact of the matter is that Chrome has never beaten a horse who was, at that time, as good as he was. Now he faces at least two - Shared Belief and Bayern - who can give him a run for his money. Can he handle the jump in class right now?
Race shape: Chrome does not need the lead, but he does need to be in contact with the leaders early on. That could be an issue here. Bayern needs the lead, and he is likely to be quite aggressive about it. Shared Belief is going to be looking for the same basic race that Chrome is. I don't want to sound like I am diminishing his two Triple Crown wins, but there is no doubting that he had very smooth trips both times. He's going to face real adversity in this race. We can be less confident of his handling of it than we can be for Shared Belief - that horse overcame a very challenging race to win last time out.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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