Sometimes a look into the future can be achieved through a window from the past.
Such may be the case when California Chrome attempts to become the 12th Triple Crown winner on June 7, the first since Affirmed in 1978. There have been eight attempts since 1997. All have been met with failure, for various reasons.
I have tracked each of the missed chances, attempting to find a thread as to why there has been such a drought. In the 1970s, we thought the streak would never end. There is no easy answer.
What I have done is to track who the jockey was on each of the first two legs, then who was the winner and jockey to deny the Triple Crown, many at long odds. In addition, I've chronicled whether the Belmont spoiler has run in any of the other Triple Crown races. The results will appear below but seem to indicate that you need a seasoned horse that is not over-raced in the five-week period.
Wicked Strong, Commanding Curve, and Samraat appear to fit that bill in the Belmont, although California Chrome has put on weight since the Derby and is training wonderfully at Belmont Park. He may be the real deal. We'll see, on a great racing card, featuring 10 stakes races worth $8 million. Other than the Breeders' Cup, it doesn't get any better than this for fans of thoroughbred racing.
There are so many ways to lose a horse race. In 1997, Gary Stevens, aboard Silver Charm, never saw Touch Gold and Dorchester's Chris McCarron, making his winning move on the way outside to steal the race.
What I have found in these last eight Triple Crown attempts since 1997 is that four times the Belmont Stakes' winner has been a horse that has competed in the Derby (finish notwithstanding), skipped the Preakness, and then won the Belmont.
They are Lemon Drop Kid (1999), Empire Maker (2003), Birdstone (2004) and Union Rags (2012), though in the latter case I'll Have Another had been retired due to injury a few days before the race.
This year, those horses would be Wicked Strong, Commanding Curve and Samraat. I'll take Wicked Strong at the moment, racing under the Centennial Farm's silks from Beverly. He would seem to love the distance and is at home.
Another homeboy is Samraat, trained by Lowell's Rick Violette. Although he faded to fifth in the late stages of the Derby, he was right there at the furlong pole and has been training well up to the Belmont. He is due to have his final blowout this weekend, following a mile work earlier this week in 1:41.28 seconds. Violette couldn't be happier with his horse.
"It was terrific, exactly what we wanted," said Violette. "He made a long sustained run around the turn and straight through the wire. He ran his last three-eighths of a mile in 36 seconds and cooled out after the work like he was King Kong."
Needless to say, Violette likes his chances.
One other longshot to contemplate is Commissioner, trained by the red-hot Todd Pletcher. The colt finished second to Tonalist in the Peter Pan Stakes, over the track, and will be ridden by Javier Castellano. Pletcher feels the colt is improving as the distances increase.
Let the buyer beware. Pletcher saddled Palace Malice to win last year's Belmont. Is California Chrome a freak of nature? We'll see next Saturday. For those of you with pets, a good one can come from any kind of breeding. I can't wait.
Paul Daley's e-mail address is email@example.com