California Chrome Will Struggle with Belmont Length in Triple Crown Pursuit

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2014

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 17:  California Chrome #3, ridden by Victor Espinoza, races to the finishline to win the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Molly Riley/Getty Images)
Molly Riley/Getty Images

California Chrome has been dominant, winning six straight races and both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.

However, the biggest test yetthe Belmont Stakescould be this talented horse's kryptonite.

Will he struggle with the longer track? Will we have our hearts broken again? Will the Triple Crown elude us once more?

I'll Have Another was retired before the Belmont Stakes in 2012. Big Brown had a loose shoe and finished last in 2008. Smarty Jones finished second in 2004, an excruciating one length behind Birdstone. Funny Cide finished third in 2003. War Emblem finished in eighth in 2002.

And that's just in recent memory.

Since 1978, 12 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and 12 horses have failed to win the Belmont. California Chrome very well may struggle with the longer track in New York and lose steam down the stretch, breaking our hearts yet again.

Look at his run in the Kentucky Derby:

Yes, he won fairly comfortably, but if they were racing at the Belmont, Commanding Curve probably catches him.

Look at his run in the Preakness:

Sure, he wouldn't have gone out in front as early in the Belmont, but on a longer track, does Ride On Curlin catch him? It sure looks like he might have done just that.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. California Chrome won those races by responding to Victor Espinoza's tactical plan for the race. He ran a slow Derby and a blazing-fast Preakness. He proved thus far to have more in the tank, more speed and more ability than the other horses.

There are doubts, though. Doubts that the longer track might affect him. Doubts that fresher horses might surpass him.

His run at the Derby was slow, remember. It's reasonable to expect that he'll have some struggles with the even further distance in New York.

Dan Wolken of USA Today has his doubts:

Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports knows the long odds facing California Chrome, writing, "Whether Chrome can retain that knockout punch for another race in just three weeks time, facing a grueling 1½-mile run against fresher horses, remains to be seen."

Even trainer Art Sherman knows the distance will be a challenge, telling Gary Mihoces of USA Today, "The mile and a half (in the Belmont), it's quite a challenge... (but it's) up his alley, too, because he's a very good horse."

Of course, the distance might not even be what keeps California Chrome from winning the Triple Crown.

According to Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News, the horse may be kept out of the race because the nasal strips he wears have been banned at the New York Racing Association.

Seriously. We might lose a Triple Crown bid over some nasal strips. Only in horse racing.

The field is going to be much stiffer, too. According to Jim Chairusmi of the Wall Street Journal, Ride On Curlin and Social Inclusion will likely run in the Belmont. He adds:

The three horses that filled out the superfecta (top 4) in the Derby, Commanding Curve, Danza and Wicked Strong are also likely for the race as is Samraat, who ran fifth in the Derby.

Todd Pletcher, who trains Danza, also has two other horses from his deep stable on the list of contenders: Commissioner and Intense Holiday.

A newcomer to the Triple Crown series is Tonalist. Trained by Christophe Clement, the son of Tapit, rolled to victory in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 10. With a win over the track, he’ll look to pull off a Peter Pan/Belmont double, duplicating the feat of A.P. Indy in 1992.

So, yes, the competition will be stiff. The pressure is high, though who knows if a horse cares about pressure? The expectations are huge. The hopes have been festering for 36 years.

And the length of the race might ruin it all.

You can talk about nasal strips or a stronger field of competition or fresher competition or anything else you like.

In the end, all that will matter is if California Chrome can conquer the longer distance. He's the most talented horse headed to New York no matter which other horses go. Whether he'll be the most talented horse for the entirety of the track is another matter altogether.