2014 Belmont Stakes

Comparing California Chrome's Triple Crown 2014 Pursuit to Secretariat, Affirmed

Exercise rider Willie Delgado walks Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome after they arrived at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., Tuesday, May 20, 2014.  The Belmont Stakes is scheduled for June 7.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press
Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJune 7, 2014

California Chrome's quest for history this Saturday at the Belmont Stakes is going to be analyzed and scrutinized like few thoroughbreds in recent memory. He's been destroying the competition for the last seven months, and the first two legs of the Triple Crown have looked easy. 

So instead of trying to figure out how California Chrome looks compared to recent horses attempting to go after the Triple Crown (I'll Have Another, Big Brown, etc.), we wanted to see how the Victor Espinoza-led stud compares to two of the greatest race horses in history: Secretariat and Affirmed.

It's ambitious to put California Chrome's name next to Affirmed and Secretariat, the latter of which ranked No. 35 on ESPN SportsCentury's list of the 100 greatest American athletes ever, before he runs the Belmont Stakes, but this is a horse we haven't seen in a long time. 

As we count the final hours to seeing what California Chrome has in store for Elmont Park, here is a closer look at his pursuit for the Triple Crown and how it compares to those historical figures in the sport. 

2014 Belmont Stakes: Post Positions and Odds
PostHorseOdds
1Medal Count20-1
2California Chrome3-5
3Matterhorn30-1
4Commanding Curve15-1
5Ride on Curlin12-1
6Matuszak30-1
7Samraat20-1
8Commissioner20-1
9Wicked Strong6-1
10General a Rod20-1
11Tonalist8-1
BelmontStakes.com

 

Kentucky Derby

Stats for Previous Kentucky Derby Winners
HorseYearTime (Minutes, Seconds)Margin of Victory
Secretariat19731:59.402 1/2 lengths
Affirmed19782:01.201 1/2 lengths
California Chrome20142:03.661 3/4 lengths
HorseRacingNation.com

The first thing that immediately jumps out about these times is how horse racing doesn't appear to follow traditional logic when it comes to sports and evolution. 

In any other sport, it's assumed that athletes are bigger, stronger and faster today than they were even a decade ago, let alone 35-40 years ago. Based on the times posted by Secretariat and Affirmed, horses were running faster in the past than they are today. 

The interesting thing about Secretariat's Derby run, which would be a theme during his Triple Crown quest, is how he ran. His powerful build gave him more stamina than anyone else in the field, so jockey Ron Turcotte, according to the horse's official website, started in the back of the pack before making his move to the front and coasting to victory. 

Affirmed was locked in a rivalry with Alydar that would only get better in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. This was actually the widest margin of victory for the 1978 Triple Crown winner in the three big races. 

 

Preakness Stakes

Stats for Previous Preakness Stakes Winners
HorseYearTime (Minutes, Seconds)Margin of Victory
Secretariat19731:532 1/2 lengths
Affirmed19781:54.40Head length
California Chrome20141:54.801 1/2 lengths
HorseRacingNation.com

Let's dive into California Chrome right here, since this is the race that has set up everything coming this weekend. His competition in the Preakness Stakes, simply by volume, was better than what Secretariat and Affirmed had to deal with in their respective years. 

The field at Pimlico in 2014 went 10 deep, though the talent wasn't deep after California Chrome. Commanding Curve, Danza, Wicked Strong and Samraat, who finished in the four spots behind California Chrome at the Derby, passed on the Preakness. Danza is the only one not returning for the Belmont Stakes. 

Secretariat was so dominant that it took 39 years to determine how fast he actually ran at Pimlico. The Maryland Racing Commission announced in 2012, via Joe Drape of the New York Times, that his official time was changed to 1 minute, 53 seconds. 

Going up against just six competitors, Secretariat had a direct path to victory. He did have to deal with Kentucky Derby contenders Sham and Our Native, but neither posed a significant challenge as the stallion cruised to an easy 2 1/2-length victory. 

Meanwhile, the rivalry between Affirmed and Alydar got elevated to another level. According to PreaknessStakesInfo.com, there have been 11 times in history the race has been decided by a head or less. The two horses ran side by side down the stretch at the Preakness Stakes, with Affirmed winning by a neck.

The track conditions were fast during all three of these impressive runs, so unless one of them stumbled out of the gate, it seemed unlikely that anything would stop them from a shot at history. 

 

Belmont Stakes

Stats for Previous Belmont Stakes Winners
HorseYearTime (Minutes, Seconds)Margin of Victory
Secretariat19732:2431 lengths
Affirmed19782:26.80Head length
California Chrome2014Results PendingResults Pending
HorseRacingNation.com

The true test of a great athlete is how they perform on the biggest stage when everyone expects them to dominate. No one has had a better or more dominating championship performance than Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes. 

There's a reason Secretariat ranked so highly on that ESPN SportsCentury list of greatest athletes, because no one has ever done what he did on a race track. The 31-length margin of victory and time of 2 minutes, 24 seconds at the Belmont Stakes are records that haven't been touched. 

On the other side of the spectrum, Affirmed became the last horse to win the Triple Crown in another thrilling finish against rival Alydar. It was one of those days where no one else on the track mattered, as you can see in this video that they are the only two contenders when things get rolling:

Affirmed found some energy down the final stretch to pull ahead and make history. It was also a fast-paced final mile, as he ran it in just over 96 seconds according to BelmontStakes.com

We won't know what California Chrome's quest for history will look like until Saturday evening, but if the assumption is he will make history, expect it to be more in line with what Affirmed did than Secretariat. 

As you can see from this image, via Horse Racing TV Insider, the ghost of Secretariat hovers over the Belmont reminding everyone who enters that they are playing on a different field than he was in 1973.  

In the end, it doesn't matter how California Chrome wins the Triple Crown as long as he's able to do it and end this drought that's been lingering around the sport for nearly four decades. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

 

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