I was wrong.
Five weeks ago, I was certain California Chrome was going to win the Triple Crown.
Alas, I was wrong.
California Chrome finished 5th in the Belmont, dashing a hundred thousand hopes that we’d finally, after all these years, have a Triple Crown winner.
I watched it on TV, of course. The images of the horse in the saddling paddock made me wonder. My, he’s relaxed. A chestnut TB, calm and quiet? He was alert, inquisitive, and well behaved. Something’s wrong. Is he TOO quiet?
I was right, although I was rooting for Chrome to win. I don’t know if he ever made it to front of the pack. It seemed as if the jockey was moving him here, there, or holding him back (it IS a mile and a half) or whatever a hindsighted arm chair quarterback can say. Suffice to say, California Chrome never really kicked into gear and finished 5th.
I think it’s because he was tired.
I beginning to believe the “theys” out there who say three weeks rest between the Preakness and the Belmont isn’t enough are right. I’ve resisted this, mostly subconsciously, because I cut my horsemans teeth on reading about TB racing. I used to be able to recite all the Triple Crown winners. I knew about the match race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit. I knew who Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons was. Calumet Farm was Mecca for me. I knew from books and accounts of the Iron Horses…horses like Citation,like Seabiscuit, horses of superequine athleticism, horses that seemed could win at any distance any time.
Now I realize those horses are memorable PRECISELY because they were above the rest of their cohort. I was coming to that, I believe, after watching Chrome’s performance in the Derby. He clearly outclassed the other horses, and it was that character that led me to believe that he was going to go all the way.
The horses being bred now are desperately fast, but don’t have the stamina the horses of the late 40’s and 50’s had. For that matter, by the 50’s, the horses were already losing that certain grittiness of character. Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948 and it took another 25 years before Secretariat won it. (followed by Seattle Slew and Affirmed, 1977 and 1978 respectively). Horses, back in the golden age of Triple Crown winners every two or three years, were raced on harder tracks, treated like horses, rather than potential breeding stallions, run hard and put away wet. (not really, but you know what I mean.) They may not have been as fast, but they had bigger hooves, they weren’t running on Lasix or Bute, they weren’t wormed with ivermectin as babies, they weren’t pared down in the breeding shed to the point where there isn’t a superfluous ounce of flesh on them. Whereas these days, Thoroughbred racers are treated like the hot house flowers they are.
And I think it’s because of what I saw today, the owners and trainers HAVE to treat them as delicate creatures. They’ve been bred for speed, not stamina. In fact, my husband, who studiously avoids anything horse, asked if Chrome lost because he had no stamina? I said, the horses with plenty of stamina are too slow.
To add to the disappointment, these days, trainers and owners pick and choose their races. It was repeated several times today…the vast majority of horses that have won the Belmont did so because (I’m conjecturing) they didn’t race in the Preakness. In today’s case, the winner, a horse named Totalist didn’t race in either the Derby or the Preakness. The horses that skip the Derby/Preakness do so for several reasons, but in the end, it looks like they’re merely spoilsports.
That’s a disappointment that many could take with a big share of anger…you didn’t race in the Derby because you didn’t have the horse, but you still think you have the right to come in and upset the Hopeful Triple Crown apple cart with your not as good horse?
Part of me says, let’s make it so that you CAN’T run in the Belmont if you didn’t race if the first two races.
In the Derby, Chrome won going away. His acceleration at the end of the race reminded me of Secretariat, and I thought, ah ha!
Two weeks later, he won again…but with not so much room between him and Commanding Curve, the horse who placed. Curve was catching up, by the way, and had he had another furlong, I believe he would have beaten Chrome. The point though, is that Chrome didn’t have the stamina he’d shown in the Derby. Even though the Preakness is a bit shorter a race (again, something that makes no sense), he didn’t have a full gas tank.
So it’s no real surprise that, even with an additional week of rest, Chrome was beaten.
In the end, it comes down to something the Jockey Club needs to address. Either change the rules, making it so that a horse must race in the first two races in order to make the Belmont, or…lengthen the time between races.
I’m betting that if the two ideas are looked at, the JC will steadfastly resist the latter. It’s just too hidebound a body, it hews too closely to some traditions. (By which I mean, allowing the use of drugs at meets is a relatively new cave in to Big Money)
The mindset of “We’ve ALWAYS run the Preakness two weeks and the Belmont five weeks after the Derby” even though, even though..even though the horses aren’t the sturdy running machines they were back in the days when the tracks were rough and the stakes not as high.
In any case, the point may be moot. Whether they admit it or not, horse racing in this country is on a steep downward slide. The Preakness almost didn’t go off two years ago, or was it as recent as last year? because of so many factors: the economy sucks, pressures from developers to turn race tracks into subdivisions, the fewer number of breeders, the intense and overwhelming competition from other forms of gambling, the general lack of interest in horses.
To paraphrase an article I read the other day, horse racing, boxing and baseball are all ‘old’ sports, and all are seeing a decline in interest and participation. Like the tracks themselves, there’s too much competition from other bigger, money-making sports, i.e. football.
People are growing up now glued to their smartphones and tablets. There hasn’t been a good horse movie made since “War Horse”. The television producers, when they televise the races, downplay the horse and focus on the humans. The unintended consequence has become that a horse, to the vast majority of people who still ‘play the ponies’ is merely a four legged number running down a track.
Yet another factor is the increasingly urban nature of our planet. I know people who’ve not only never met a live horse, they aren’t even sure what a horse IS. My dear husband, bless his soul, had no experience whatsoever with horses until he made the huge mistake of marrying me. The first time he was closer than a television screen to a horse was the time he accompanied me to an appointment to massage a 16.2 TB. He was amazed at how comfortable I was with the horse. “You just waltzed into that stall with that great big horse, I had no idea they got so big.”
You and I don’t think this is such a big thing, but to the non horseman, it is.
The sad thing is, we are a dying breed. We are. Our great grandchildren will think of horses as anachronisms, like wooden sailing ships and typewriters. Their grandchildren-if the human race hasn’t poisoned itself into extinction-will group horses in with dinosaurs and mammoths.
We are a dying breed, all on our own.
Just like the racers.