California Chrome has date with destiny
ELMONT We finally get to see what Chrome is made of.
Pure chromium is brittle, but zap some electrons through it, and it will attach itself to a surface in an orderly layer that is not only pretty to look at, but durable and difficult to tarnish.
California Chrome gets the final zap today.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is a heavy favorite for the 146th Belmont Stakes, but still will need every element to fall in its proper place to make him a Triple Crown winner.
We haven’t seen one of those since 1978, when Gerald Ford was president, the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack was on top of the charts and Affirmed beat Alydar by a head at Belmont Park to become the 11th Triple Crown winner overall and third in a span of six years.
The Triple Crown has dulled to a dusty relic of another generation in the 35 years since.
Eleven have tried, and 11 have failed, most recently Big Brown in 2008.
Is California Chrome made of War Admiral, Citation, Secretariat . . . or is he made of Spectacular Bid, Real Quiet and War Emblem?
What is expected to be a crowd in excess of 100,000 at Belmont Park and an NBC audience will find out at 6:52 p.m., when 11 will run one mile-and-a-half lap into either history or its footnotes.
“You think about it, 36 years and nobody’s won the Triple Crown,” trainer Art Sherman said. “It’d be quite an honor. If you would have said to me the first of the year that I would be on the Triple Crown trail, I would say, ‘You’re kidding me.’ So here I am, hoping that we can get the final race.”
California Chrome is 3-5 on the morning line, and will break from post No. 2.
The field includes two others who ran in the Derby and Preakness — Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin and General a Rod, who is co-owned by Duanesburg’s Don Lucarelli as a co-managing partner with Jack Wolf in Starlight Racing.
The four who ran in the Derby but skipped the Preakness are Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, Medal Count, the New York-bred Samraat and Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, who is the 6-1 second choice.
Rounding out the field are long shot Matuszak, who has never won since breaking his maiden first time out, and three of the top four finishers from the Grade II Peter Pan at Belmont — Tonalist and the Todd Pletcher-trained Commissioner and Matterhorn
This will be jockey Victor Espinoza’s second attempt at a Triple Crown. He was on War Emblem in 2002 and lost the Belmont on a one-dimensional and ferociously headstrong horse.
That won’t be the case today, as California Chrome, co-owned by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin of Dumb Ass Partners, has been a dream to train and ride, by all accounts. Still, Sherman called this a rider’s race and believe that Espinoza needs to be wary of his counterparts’ desire to spoil a Triple Crown.
“There’s a lot of fresh horses taking shots at me,” Sherman said. “He’s going to have a target on his back. Victor will just have to maneuver him to the right spot and just sit there and not move too quick. It’s a long race.”
“I’m sure they’ll take a few different runs at him, like they did at Pimlico. As long as he doesn’t get in any traffic problems, I don’t think it will be a problem for him. You can’t move too early on him; you just have to sit as long as you can.”
“California Chrome is a horse that’s going for history, and we’re all trying to throw something in his way,” said Rick Violette, Samraat’s trainer.
“You’re not going to beat him with trickery,” said Dale Romans, who trains Medal Count. “You just have to try to be better than him.”
General a Rod is 20-1, but Lucarelli believes he has a pretty good shot here since General a Rod is by a sire — Roman Ruler — who has produced a Belmont winner (Ruler On Ice) and an outside post will give him a better opportunity to be closer to the front early.
“You hope he has the staying power, but you don’t know if any of them have that,” Lucarelli said. “If the fractions are moderate enough, you’ll see him up there.”
Another former Belmont winner, Palace Malice, will be running on the blockbuster card, in the Met Mile.
Two horses who had been considered possible for the Belmont are running in undercard stakes instead. Kid Cruz is in the Easy Goer, and Preakness third-place finisher Social Inclusion is 7-5 in the Grade II Woody Stephens.
Fans will also get an opportunity to see the remarkable Ben’s Cat, who has won 26 of 39 lifetime and is the 5-2 favorite in the Jaipur.
The six-race Grade I roster kicks off with the Acorn, followed by the Beholder/Princess of Sylmar/Close Hatches matchup in the Ogden Phipps, then the Just A Game, Met Mile and Manhattan on the turf.
Then we’ll see Chrome’s mettle tested, with a chance to make history.
“This is Bill Mazeroski hitting it out in Game 7,” said Schenectady native Ed Stanco, who owns Princess of Sylmar.
“I know it’ll be tougher going a mile and a half, but this horse is a good horse,” Sherman said. “I think he’s the real McCoy. They better worry about me, I can tell you that.”