By Art Parker, author of ‘Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns’
There’s a lot of folks drinking the Kool-Aid. The California Chrome Kool-Aid. And they are serious. Since I have yet to sing his praises loudly with enthusiasm after the Preakness, it has resulted in the loss of friends and loss of friends that I didn’t have. I’ve been called worse names than a fat girl in a bikini contest. I’ve been told I was un-American for not spewing love and affection for Chrome. I like the colt and I love the story that tags along with him, but he still must prove he is as good as so many think he is. Thus far, I’m not buying it.
Before the Preakness I had my say and Chrome defeated a less than stellar field, which included runner-up Ride On Curlin, a colt that has never won a graded stakes. That detail was a repeat of the Derby. Commanding Curve, the Derby runner-up, has never won a graded stakes either. And there is no doubt that in Baltimore, Chrome had another perfect trip. Let’s face it, thus far California Chrome is as lucky as a pothead with a marijuana prescription.
Of course the real pain came when my friend Rich Nilsen declared Chrome as the next Triple Crown winner. Rich is the editor of agameofskill.com. Rich stole my line about the three year old crop being weak. There is no doubt about it – the crop of 2011 is terribly weak. But Rich did a great job at explaining one of the big reasons why, and that is the foal crop is much, much smaller. The last three Triple Crown winners were part of a larger foal crop than the one that produced our current three olds. The largest crops we’ve ever seen exceeded 50,000 foals, and those were years when Alysheba and Sunday Silence failed at Triple Crown bids. The crop that produced California Chrome is about one-third less in size than the one that produced I’ll Have Another, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012.
Weak crop or not, it looks like there will be enough foes to fill the gate with potential spoilers at Big Sandy, the nickname for the Belmont Park main track. Chrome will be forced to get position, negotiate those colossal tiring turns and then hope there is enough left in the tank. And much of the field will have had more rest going into the race than Chrome.
As we say in the south, “You got to dance with the girl that brung ya,” and in horse racing you got to run with those in your generation. All you have to do to win the Triple Crown is beat those your own age. California Chrome has narrowed the Triple Crown task to a final race, so all he must do now is beat those that show up. It will still be a tough task.
And if Chrome pulls it off? It will be a great day for horse racing and a great day for sports.
And then, even doubters such as I will drink the Kool-Aid.