California Chrome's Triple Crown Bid Has More at Stake Than Money

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2014

Exercise rider Willie Delgado rides California Chrome around the track at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., Wednesday, May 21, 2014. California Chrome arrived in New York on Tuesday to begin preparations for his bid to become horse racing's first Triple Crown winner in 36 years. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Much ado has been made about the cash flow surrounding California Chrome.

It makes sense. All involved, from the owners right on down to the average bettor on a $2 whim, have benefited and will continue to do so from the sport's most dominant participant in more than a decade.

But more importantly, the dominance and possibility of a Triple Crown winner has the potential to revive what is a sleeping juggernaut in the sporting world—horse racing itself.

Yes, California Chrome's owners came together on a $10,000 investment under the label "Dumb Ass Partners" and spurned one of the best feel-good stories of the year while turning down offers of up to $15 million for their prized horse.

And yes, the California Chrome brand is set to be a sure thing should he and jockey Victor Espiznoa succeed in New York. The owners have filed a trademark for the horse's name for use on apparel, including "shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hats and caps," per's Darren Rovell.

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The global narrative needs to paint in broader strokes, though. Horse racing thrives thanks to the gambling scene, which has still fallen off in recent years. More attractive and lucrative gambling ventures have opened to bettors over the past few decades. The sport has suffered as a result.

Dilution of talent is perhaps the biggest criminal of all. Just look at this year's Triple Crown stretch. California Chrome destroyed the competition at the Kentucky Derby, so much so that only three other horses from that race suited up for the Preakness.

The sum of horse racing's parts is luck. The star athletes are animals, which is not something that can be adequately examined. That's part of the fun—average bettors can dance with experts quite well if luck comes into play.

But this also means the popularity of the sport is mostly based on hype. As Childs Walker of The Baltimore Sun notes that fans need a big-name star to keep interest levels high:

The possibility the charismatic horse could pull off the sport's signature achievement has the thoroughbred racing world abuzz. For years, racing lovers have said the sport needs a superstar in the mold of Secretariat or Seattle Slew to mitigate declines in attendance and mainstream interest.

Assistant trainer Alan Sherman concurs, adding a personal twist by referencing California Chrome's backstory, via CBS New York:

"I think the industry could really use a Triple Crown winner right now, especially with a story like this,” Sherman said after California Chrome’s arrival at Belmont Park on Tuesday. “This horse didn’t cost a ton of money to buy him or breed him. It’s kind of a feelgood story. This goes to show you never know what can happen in this game."

A modernization of the sport itself may also ride on California Chrome's shoulders, which would inherently boost the popularity. Much like the boxing scene, horse racing is muddied with different rules on a state-by-state basis.

This was put on display in full force when California Chrome ran in Kentucky and Baltimore with nasal strips but had to force New York to change its rules or perhaps not run at Belmont Park.

May 20, 2014; Elmont, NY, USA;  California Chrome outside the barn upon arriving in advance of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Dwindling attendance numbers and overall finances of the sport paint a bleak picture. California Chrome cannot save the sport on his own with a Triple Crown triumph, but it would be the beginning of a journey down the right path.

After all, every renaissance needs a pioneer.


Follow Chris_Roling on Twitter