As the globe is surely fully aware of at this point, California Chrome will attempt to make history on Saturday at the Belmont Stakes by becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978.
Armed with a stellar jockey in Victor Espinoza, who negotiates traffic with the utmost of ease, California Chrome blew away the field at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
But the most difficult leg of the Triple Crown is reserved for last—especially for a horse like California Chrome. While easily the most dominant figure in the sport, California Chrome has a unique test at hand thanks to a new set of circumstances set to occur in New York.
Let's examine some of those new roadblocks California Chrome will have to vault over in order to cement his place in history.
A 1 1/2-mile sprint is something California Chrome has never encountered, much like the rest of the field set to partake in the Belmont Stakes.
Now, there is no reason to equate distance with a valid reason to not count on a victory for California Chrome. As Dallas Stewart—who trains another favorite in Commanding Curve—notes, the new distance is not necessarily a major detriment, per Larry Stumes of SFGate:
All horses are untested at that distance. You can't take anything away from California Chrome - he does nothing but win, so he's probably going to be pretty tough to beat. But it's all a matter of what horse is going to take to the distance. I think there are three or four horses capable of beating him even on his best day at this distance.
California Chrome's trainer Art Sherman concurs, via KY Derby Contenders:
Art Sherman: "If you have a speed horse who will rate, you are always dangerous." No worries about #BelmontStakes distance.— KY Derby Contenders (@DerbyContenders) May 17, 2014
So no, distance is not a surefire way to discredit a Triple Crown winner, but it is a new wrinkle California Chrome has yet to encounter, and it very well could throw a wrench in the plans—especially when combined with the next hurdle.
There is an outside chance that even California Chrome will fall victim to an alarming trend that has developed in recent years as it pertains to horses on the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Since 1978, seven of 11 horses who needed a win at Belmont to capture the Triple Crown had their hopes dashed by a horse who sat out of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. Ditto for the last five contenders in a row.
The topic is one that has spurred much controversy. Co-owner Steve Coburn is one leading the charge publicly now that his horse has a serious shot at the coveted prize, as captured by Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News:
I honestly believe that they need to change this sport to where those 20 horses that start in the Kentucky Derby are the only 20 eligible to run in all three races. If you bow out in the Preakness, you don’t come back for the Belmont.
I honestly believe that if the Triple Crown is not won this year by California Chrome, I will never see it in my lifetime because there are people out there trying to upset the apple cart.
Regardless, no changes can take place now. Favorites Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong enter the fray on five weeks' rest. Another favorite in Tonalist comes off four weeks of down time after winning the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park in early May.
If California Chrome is to make history, advantages given to other horses must be overcome. It's a simple fact of the Triple Crown, no matter who feels what way about it.
No, this does not have to do with a cough or the oft-mentioned nasal strips.
Rather, health refers to California Chrome's ability to go the distance against a field that has had more time off. The Triple Crown is such a rare feat because horses are not accustomed to such a quick turnaround.
They are also not normally bred for a race of such distance in tandem with short breaks, at least in this era. California Chrome has to at the very least make it to the gate in New York, something I'll Have Another could not do recently.
It is quite literally impossible to tell how any horse will respond to such an intense work rate. But above all else, each factor mentioned throughout and the overall journey leave California Chrome susceptible to a loss on the biggest stage of them all.