There is an old rule in sports that when you are winning, do not change anything. This thought process applies to football teams, golfers and even Triple Crown hopefuls.
California Chrome will head into the Belmont Stakes attempting to be the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978. He has already won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but the last leg of the trio always seems to be the hardest.
As John Buccigross of ESPN notes, a number of other challengers have been in this same position:
California Chrome: 13th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1978--last time there was a Triple Crown winner - Affirmed— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) May 18, 2014
First of all, it is difficult to compete in three races in a short period of time. This is on top of the travel involved in going from Kentucky to Maryland to New York. This is why few trainers send their thoroughbreds to all three events unless there is a chance of winning them all.
Additionally, the Belmont track is longer than the first two races. Churchill Downs uses a 1 1/4-mile track, Pimlico is 1 3/16 miles and the final leg lasts 1 1/2 miles. This obviously leads to extra fatigue on the final stretch, allowing other challengers to pass the favorites heading into the finish line.
Still, California Chrome has a chance to do what no other competitor has done in 36 years. The key will be a consistent approach to the race, something that has been aided by a recent ruling.
According to the Sporting News, Belmont has decided to allow the thoroughbred to use a nasal strip, which had not been allowed in past races at the track:
While this does not seem like it would be a huge deal, trainer Art Sherman was ready to pull California Chrome out of Belmont if the horse was not allowed to use the apparatus, according to ESPN. He explained: "I think it opens up his air passage and gives him that little extra oomph that he needs, especially going a mile and a half. Anytime you can have a good air passage, that means a lot for these thoroughbreds."
New York State Gaming Commission Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer ensured to those in charge that "Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance nor do they pose a risk to equine health or safety and as such do not need to be regulated," via Michael Pearson, Steve Almasy and Ray Sanchez of CNN.
Will California Chrome win the Triple Crown?
Whether they truly enhance the competitor's ability, the important factor is that it is something that the horse has gotten used to over the past six races, all of them wins. No matter what the effect, there is obviously a comfort level that should not be changed.
Another adjustment that occurred in the past six races was the addition of jockey Victor Espinoza. The 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner replaced Alberto Delgado, who was not leading the talented horse to consistent success. California Chrome finished in sixth place in his final two races with Delgado at the helm.
When Espinoza took over, he used a more aggressive style to keep the horse in contention throughout the races before allowing him to pull away down the stretch. He showed the ability to win a slower-paced race at the Kentucky Derby while picking up the speed when needed at Preakness.
Jeannine Edwards of ESPN noted the strategy before the run at Pimlico, which ended up working to perfection:
Victor Espinoza doesn't want California Chrome more than 5 lengths off the pace, and he wants to stay a few paths off rail. #Preakness— Jeannine Edwards (@jeanninee12) May 17, 2014
Although this next race will be longer with a different field, the strategy will be the same. The horse will also see the same jockey, the same equipment and the same pre-race preparation. If all goes according to plan, this consistency will help create the same result.
Even before competing at Preakness, experts like Jessica Paquette at Suffolk Downs thought a Triple Crown was possible:
With just one more race to go, it now seems even more likely that we are ready to witness history.
Over the past few months, California Chrome has been the best thoroughbred in the world. The stuff that has led to success over the past few months—including the nasal strips—will be repeated at Belmont Park.
Where others have failed in the past few decades, California Chrome will succeed and find a way to win the Triple Crown.
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