Birdstone. Touch Gold. Victory Gallop.
They earned notoriety for the moment in time when they turned back a Triple Crown contender and prolonged the agony of starved racing fans seeking the elusive historical triumph.
“Spoilers,” as they are deemed, are legends of a loss. Their association is with dashed dreams, ripped tickets and solemn silence. While the Triple Crown hopeful totes years of accumulated hope on his back, the spoiler seeks to win a Grade 1 race, the Test of the Champion, on a Saturday evening at Belmont Park.
In other sports, there is glory in the underdog toppling the No. 1-ranked team. In the Belmont Stakes, though he might be the betting favorite, the Triple Crown hopeful is the underdog.
You couldn’t find a more fitting underdog than this year’s Triple Crown hopeful, California Chrome. A California-bred of modest breeding overlooked until his Santa Anita Derby romp in April, he was tabbed “America’s horse” by co-owner Steve Coburn.
Endearment and allegiance were committed to many hopefuls who have failed since Affirmed in 1978, but the faith surrounding this chestnut colt is distinctive.
Support for a Triple Crown hopeful is never without a hint of hesitation. Errant rides. Nose losses. Empty tanks in the final furlong. Disappointments build and take hold in the psyche. A desire to believe is tempered by the cold reality of 36 years and counting.
California Chrome’s support, however, appears to transcend the disenchantment. He has induced a dose of guarded optimism among racing’s tentative devotees with his domination in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, his stout physique and a serene yet competitive character.
There is indeed a glimmer.
Looming in the background are the potential spoilers. They line up with their own set of credentials, standout bloodlines and backstories that take a backseat unless one proves best on this day.
Ride On Curlin, the only one still within reach of California Chrome in the stretch of the Preakness, resembles his renowned rival: a throwback type with something to prove. Tonalist, a late bloomer, is a lightly-raced colt whose talent level is undetermined. Mercurial Wicked Strong displays the qualities of a champion, troubled in trips, just waiting to be unleashed.
Perhaps the most feared aspiring spoiler is Commanding Curve, with Belmont mastery in his bloodlines and rested muscles. Surely California Chrome heard his hooves approaching as this challenger closed swiftly down the stretch in the Kentucky Derby, gathering momentum but falling shy.
The legacy of Triple Crown champions is that of a rare and heralded equine feat. The legacy of the spoiler is unique as well. He ends a story while creating his own.
Photo by J.J. Hysell
Photo by J.J. Hysell
are legends of a loss. Their association is with dashed dreams, ripped tickets and solemn silence. While the Triple Crown hopeful totes years of accumulated hope on his back, the spoiler seeks to win a Grade 1 race, the Test of the Champion, on a Saturday evening at Bel