Horse racing needs California Chrome.
First it was the silly assaults of nasal strips, which were allowed by the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. It didn’t take long for three race stewards at Belmont Park to agree to allow California Chrome to wear the strips after determining that they weren’t performance enhancing.
Then there was the tragic news from Churchill Downs. The 5-year-old mare, Never Tell Lynda, fell and hit her head after becoming startled from the track’s new sound system.
California Chrome is a life raft of hope. The chestnut colt turned in a Hollywood script the last few weeks despite coming from Ugly Duckling beginnings. His dam was bought for the unheard of price of $8,000 because nobody ever thought Love the Chase would result into anything worthwhile.
But now, California Chrome has one more chapter to write. He can become the 12th horse to ever win the Triple Crown. The fact that thoroughbred horse racing traces its origins back as far as 1750 with the British Jockey Club, makes California Chrome’s Triple Crown attempt even more amazing.
Since 1997 there have been seven horses that have won the Derby and Preakness but failed to close it out on the more daunting 1½-mile track.
Which is why over 100,000 will pack Belmont Track to see if California Chrome can become the first horse in 36 years to bring the “Dumb Ass Partners” the greatest achievement in thoroughbred horse racing. Over 120,000 were on hand in 2004 to catch a glimpse of Smarty Jones and potential history — you can only imagine how many will pack the “Championship Track.”
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I understand that horse racing doesn’t get a flicker from the average sports fan, but this isn’t just a horse race anymore. This is history. This is scampering to the TV when Cal Ripken Jr. got to 2,131 straight games, when Michael Phelps captured eight gold medals in Beijing or when Brett Favre broke Dan Marino’s career passing yards record.
I hate to admit it, but I still remember the exact barstool in Little Chute I was sitting on when Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s career home run mark in 2007. If California Chrome wins, this is going to be burned into memory.
Book and movie deals appear likely if California Chrome wins and anytime a horse is considered to overcome long odds and succeed, it will be fair to say that the rest of the field just got Chromed.
Adding to the race’s allure is Chrome’s jockey Victor Espinoza. The only Triple Crown race that has escaped his grasp is Belmont. But Espinoza has earned a second aboard A P Valentine in 2001.
But this race isn’t about an experienced jockey, nor is it about a horse that made snarky critics eat crow. This is about a horse that is about to turn horse racing upside-down. The last time the Triple Crown was won, instant information wasn’t as accessible as it is now. Heck, ESPN wasn’t off the ground back then and now you can tune into the race on your mobile device.
This is the perfect time for horse racing to rebrand itself to a new demographic. Horse racing has always been looked at from afar as an older person’s sport because it takes a generous amount of capital just to get started.
But by showing what kind of impact the race will have not only on the outcome but on the sport itself, younger people will likely be more apt to immerse themselves in the race culture. Let new race fans see one of the rarest outcomes in sports and give them a taste at what beating the odds can look like from owner and trainer all the way down to the horse itself.
A win for California Chrome could be the beginning of a new breed of horse racing fans.
Just make sure you find a television at 5:52 p.m. CT on Saturday.