Will Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome win Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (G1) and become the 12th horse in history to garner the elusive Triple Crown? We’ll know the answer Saturday evening at the conclusion of the race scheduled to run at 6:52 p.m. EDT. Until then, race fans will continue to analyze history and speculate as to California Chrome’s chances to break a 36-year drought.
The 1970s saw three Triple Crown winners—Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. Some of the connections of these three winners recently participated in a national conference call and provided their opinions of California Chrome’s chances to become the next Triple Crown winner.
In 1973 Secretariat’s Triple Crown win ended a 25-year drought that saw seven failed attempts before him. His rider, Ron Turcotte, said of California Chrome’s chances, “I'd love to see the horse win. I really love the horse. I love the way he's training, and I really think he's going to win the Triple Crown. I'd just love to see him win it.”
Secretariat’s 92-year-old owner Penny Chenery thinks so much of California Chrome’s Triple Crown winning possibility that she’s making plans to attend the June 7 event.
“I wasn't going to go, because I'm getting up in years, but I just—if this horse can win the Triple Crown, I want to be there,” said Chenery.
In 1977, a mere four years after Secretariat’s Triple Crown feat, the undefeated Seattle Slew won the Belmont Stakes and garnered the glory as the 10th Triple Crown winner. Billy Turner, trainer of Seattle Slew, is stabled at Belmont Park and has been able to observe California Chrome on the track in recent mornings.
“He's just such a nice horse,” said Turner. “He goes out there—he goes out there jogs off the track—gallops around, does what everybody would like him to do, walks around, walks home, sort of notices the crowd, and just seems to really enjoy what he's doing.”
In 1978 when Affirmed became the third horse in six years to win the Triple Crown, many people were starting to think the series was too easy.
“Well, I think a horse going for it like this California Chrome; this is really what's wonderful about it,” said Patrice Wolfson, co-owner of Affirmed. “You know, whether he does win it now and we have a new Triple Crown added to the list, I think I'm about ready to give up the last of the Crown winners. Sometimes I think that's my name, Mrs. Last Triple Crown Winner. So we'll have a lot of collectibles, and you'd just like to see a great horse win it, and I think he's got the potential to possibly be a great horse, so we'll be cheering for him.
“I think looking today, this horse has the best chance; just something about him. We just all think he's special. I think to win the Triple Crown, we want to see a horse that has that excitement, and he has that. Let's hope he shows it next Saturday.”
Affirmed’s Triple Crown winning jockey Steve Cauthen, who was the youngest jockey to accomplish the feat at the ripe age of 18, also thinks a lot of California Chrome’s chances to win the Triple Crown, but sees it in only a way a jockey could.
“I think [jockey Victor Espinoza]’s very well connected with California Chrome,” said Cauthen. “I mean they've got a great relationship. You know, the horse obviously, he—it's fun to watch because it reminds me a lot of Affirmed. As Patrice was saying, he's got a lot of options with him. He can go to the front, sit second, third, fourth. The horse seems to settle wherever he wants him, and he can pick up in an instant when he asks him, like he did on the turn, you know, at Pimlico when that horse challenged on the outside. It looked like he didn't even have to ask him, the horse just did it on his own, and that's how Affirmed was. So, you know, in that respect, I think he's ready. I mean he's got all the talent. Tactically he's in great shape. It's a question of if he can really stay a mile and a half. You know, he's just—to me, he looks just like a freak horse, but he can probably do things that are beyond his breeding. So, I'm looking for him to really pull it off, and I like the way Art Sherman's training him.”
Since Affirmed’s win in 1978 there have been 12 horses to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the last being I’ll Have Another in 2012, who was forced to scratch the day before the Belmont Stakes due to a career-ending injury. Could California Chrome be the horse that ends this 36-year drought? Tune in to NBC Sports Saturday from 4:30-7 p.m. to find out.
Photo: California Chrome's Facebook Page