By winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, California Chrome is on the precipice of horse racing history.
When he runs in the Belmont Stakes in two weeks, Chrome will attempt to become the first horse to win all three legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown since 1978. So far, Chrome’s wins have come easily but, as those connected to the 12 horses since 1978 that also won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but failed to win the Belmont will attest, making history is never easy.
California Chrome is a beast. He likes to win, and he likes to look other horses in the eye and say, “Goodbye.” The quality he has that other horses do not — the ability to instantly accelerate — is his biggest weapon, and he used it again last Saturday in Baltimore by getting early position, settling down and then moving past the early leaders and away from his competitors at the top of the stretch.
And this time, he did all this in real racehorse time. It was a very solid if not great performance.
As for the others, Ride on Curlin has some talent and will be a factor in the Belmont. His race in the Derby was basically a tossout, and he rebounded nicely in the Preakness, as many Derby also-rans do. But, let’s not kid ourselves here: He is a cut below — as he has proved — many of the other 3-year-olds out there.
As for the other horses Chrome faced in the Preakness, they are a cut below the top-notch horses going over 11?8 miles and, while they will win some races, they just can’t compete going longer distances.
Now we move into the deeper waters of the Belmont.
There will be fresh and rested horses waiting for him in New York — including Commanding Curve, the Louisiana Derby third-place finisher who ran second in the Derby and seemed to be closing ground on Chrome near the end of the race. He skipped the Preakness and has been pointed to the Belmont ever since.
My opinion of Chrome going into the Kentucky Derby was that he would not win — couldn’t get the distance — and that pace would spoil his chances. I was wrong. He got a good trip, made his own pace and held on.
My opinion of Chrome in the Preakness was that there were few scenarios I could see where he would lose. He was almost a sure thing given the pace and his ability to rate and make a quick, decisive move. I was right.
I saw a different racehorse at the end of the Preakness compared to the end of the Derby. While it appeared Chrome had a lot more to give in the Derby (although I do not buy into the he-could-have-run-faster theory), he didn’t have a lot more to give in the Preakness. In fact, that he ran a faster speed number in the Preakness does not bode well for his chances in the Belmont. It hurts — not helps. Chrome will be running his third race in five weeks, and he must run his best race ever at a distance that is not his best.
My opinion is that Chrome is distance-limited. Given the perfect setup and the right opponents, he can win at 1¼ miles. It probably won’t happen again in his career. I don’t see any circumstances or set of opponents that he can beat in the Belmont.
Pedigree does matter — especially at 1½ miles. Who your mama is and how far they could run does matter in horse racing. Chrome was a tired horse after the Preakness, as mentioned by his jockey, Victor Espinoza, and trainer, Art Sherman. Yes, he has three weeks to recover, but can he run an “A” race again in the Belmont? That’s what it will take.
I don’t think he can — unfortunately. I say unfortunately because, more than anything, I am a fan of racing. I want a Triple Crown winner for the obvious reasons. It lifts the tide of horse racing. But wanting it and believing it will happen are different things.
I will be betting against Chrome in the Belmont with both hands. I think anytime the betting public makes a bad decision — making California Chrome an overwhelming favorite — I need to take advantage of the situation.
If I lose my money and he wins the Triple Crown, I will be happy. Not because I lost money but because horse racing will be a winner — for the first time in over 30 years.
Gold at end of the Rainbow?
While California Chrome has to wait a few weeks to go after his Triple Crown pot of gold, horse race bettors don’t have to wait that long. On Monday, thousands of handicappers and gamblers — yours truly included — will chase glory and a personal pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow Pick 6 at Gulfstream Park.
The Rainbow Pick 6 requires bettors to correctly pick the winners of six consecutive races — in advance — to win their slice of the betting pool. It’s a jackpot wager, meaning your ticket has to be the only winning ticket for that day. If another person picks the same six horses, then you share in 30 percent of that day’s wagered total, and 70 percent of the money bet “carries over” to the next day.
As of this writing, there have been 76 racing days when no single winning ticket has been purchased. It’s kind of like the Powerball not hitting for the same period. The record payout for the Rainbow Pick 6 happened last year when a bettor in New Jersey walked away with $3,591,245.44 for having the only winning ticket. The pool is currently at about $6.5 million.
But this Monday, Gulfstream Park has decided to pay out the pool entirely — and horseplayers have been planning their attack ever since the announcement was made a few weeks ago. This Pick 6 pool will be the biggest mutual wagering pool ever in the United States. Expectations are that the final pool will be over $10 million, with a $15 million total not out of the question.
For weeks now, friends and degenerates alike have been conspiring to pool their resources together and make one big ticket to cover as many possible combinations — just like people do when the Powerball payout gets high. I spoke to a fellow gambler in another state who told me he has over 50 people in his pool that will go after Pick 6 with a total stake of over $20,000. My breakfast club buddies and I are putting our own kitty — or “cow,” as we call it — together, and we will take our shot at handicapping immortality as well.
Will one person or one group walk away with the entire amount? Probably not — but that doesn’t mean we won’t try.
Michael Beychok, the 2012 National Handicapping Championship and 2012 Eclipse Award winner for best handicapper, brings 35 years of experience to The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter: @BeychokRacing.