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Even if only a temporary boost, California Chrome brings racing to conversations

By Staff | May 30, 2014

Thoroughbred racing is an industry with more competition for the public’s recreation dollar than Coca Cola has from its many soft drink think-alikes.

Horse racing can feature the Triple Crown for only five weeks, starting with the first Saturday in May and completing its fragile hold on the nation’s attention in early June.

With the charismatic California Chrome and his group of feel-good handlers and caretakers, horse racing can glide into the June 7 Belmont Stakes on a chestnut charger whose excellence has brought him wins in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.

The Triple Crown is available. People will care about horse racing for a little longer.

Photogenic and amiable with the sometimes contentious press and media, California Chrome could be the first Triple Crown champion since 1978 when Affirmed performed his stretch-running thrills against arch rival, Alydar.

Since 1978, there have been 12 thoroughbreds with enough stamina and ability to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. But none of them could get home in the mile-and-a-half grind that had been previewed by off-track intrique, constant worry about injury or sickness and the fatigue of being moved to Kentucky, and then Baltimore, and finally to New York.

California Chrome is new-penny bright in color and texture. He’s a poor man’s insight to the fabled Secretariat.

But he won’t appear on the front cover of Time Magazine, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. And its not because Newsweek no longer exists in print form.

Secretariat had the country’s attention in a time when there was a president who was denying Watergate, when the Vietnam War was raging and to joust with authority was all the rage among a large segment of the younger generation.

Secretariat was untainted. And thoroughbred racing had no competition from X boxes, Facebook, Twitter, on-line games or The Voice.

California Chrome is just as untainted. His trainer is 77 years old (Art Sherman) and his compliance with the demanding media has been unbroken.

It’s just that thoroughbred racing as an industry has mostly just the horses themselves as positive symbols, where our emotions can go and not be disappointed.

In this year’s Belmont Stakes, California Chrome could face as many as 10 rivals. Nearly all of them will be well-rested and gone from the races for a month or more.

Some will be coming to New York from the Kentucky Derby. Others from races that were supposed to get them into the Kentucky Derby but didn’t.

There could be two thoroughbreds that could join California Chrome from the Preakness.

This is not a particularly distinguishing crop of three-year-olds. The copper-colored California Chrome could win the Triple Crown only because his rivals are not the likes of runner-up Alydar.

But at least there is still a Triple Crown possibility. The shortlived mystique will be gone by Sunday, June 8.

California Chrome could coax a Hollywood movie from some venturesome sort. That would come only if he gets home first in the marathon-like Belmont Stakes that will end the marathon-like journey he survived along the Triple Crown trail.