Can California Chrome win the Triple Crown? Odds and Betting Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 5/21/2014
Can California Chrome win the Triple Crown? Absolutely. He has been the best horse by a healthy margin in two Triple crown races already, and he faces a solid but manageable likely field in the third. Why can't he win? I am far from one of those people who believe that we will never see another Triple Crown winner. In fact, given how close we have come before with horses like Real Quiet, Silver Charm and Smarty Jones, I think we are going to see another run of Triple Crowns at some point like we did when the title was claimed in 1973 by Secretariat, and then again in 1977 and 1978 - and almost again in 1979.
It's a brutal test, but it's far from an impossible one. So, will California Chrome win the Triple Crown? Well, that's a far more difficult question. When trying to figure that out, here are five factors to consider:
Field: At this point there are 10 challengers looking to take on the champ, though I expect both one or more of those to decide not to and one or two more to emerge. Of the current group, California Chrome has already beaten all but two of them - Ride On Curlin twice, Social Inclusion and Kid Cruz in the Preakness, and five from the Derby. The only two horses he has not faced are Tonalist and Commissioner. The latter is a decent horse but far from a great one, and he doesn't pose much of a threat in my eyes. Tonalist is an intriguing one. He won over the Belmont surface in very impressive fashion last time out, and he has plenty of talent. He has only raced three times, though, so his maturity and experience are major concerns. There isn't a horse that you need to be concerned about because California Chrome can't likely beat him. It is important to remember, though, that both Commanding Curve in the Derby and Ride On Curlin in the Preakness closed well in the latter stretch drive, and both looked like they would have been happy to keep running.
Pedigree: California Chrome simply does not have the pedigree to be a Belmont winner - neither the stamina influences nor the class. At this point, though, that is only a passing concern. The horse has made a serious habit of outrunning his modest breeding over the past several months, and he is a good example of a horse who is more than the sum of his parts. I'm no more concerned on this front than I have been for the last two races. Or rather, I have come to accept that my bias towards the crucial importance of breeding in the Triple Crown has, at times, limitations.
Jockey: I was concerned about Victor Espinoza heading into the Triple Crown. He was once a very elite jockey, but time hasn't been kind to him, and in recent years he has been a shell of his former self. There were many guys I would rather have seen on the mount. While I am still not the president of the Espinoza fan club, though, I have nothing but respect for what he has done here. He's an asset in this quest in two big ways. First, he is really dialed in with this horse. He has gotten him out of the gate well in both races, and he has managed the pace and kept him out of early trouble brilliantly. He has also used California Chrome's explosive acceleration perfectly both times, essentially ending the races in one burst. Chemistry between horse and rider can often be more important than the overall skill or momentum of the rider, and that is the case here. Second, he has been here before. In 2002 he was aboard War Emblem when he won the Derby and Preakness, and he dealt with the absolute circus that is a Triple Crown possibility at Belmont. The horse he was on wasn't nearly as highly-regarded as this one, but with Bob Baffert training him there was plenty of attention.
Trainer: Art Sherman is old school and out of his element at this level of racing. He is really not a concern here, though. If you want to know how savvy he is just look at how he handled the nasal strip issue. He perfectly used the media to get the issue out in the open and resolved in a hurry, and he made sure that there was really only one possible resolution. He played the NYRA like a violin. Guys who can do that aren't overwhelmed by their situation.
The health and fitness of a horse is an obvious concern after these two races. He didn't seem to come out of the Preakness quite as sharp as he did after
the Derby - largely because he had to work much harder to win the second race. Sherman is conservative, though, so we can be reasonably confident that the
horse will be ready - at least as confident as we can be about a horse facing this brutal test. That are a lot of things that can quite possibly derail
this Triple Crown bid, but I don't expect fatigue to be the most likely excuse if it happens.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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