06/01/2014 11:19AM

Triple Crown winner is inevitable

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There was a palpable buzz in the air Saturday at Belmont Park, and it wasn’t entirely due to the Big Apple Showcase Day card for New York-breds.
Maybe it was because of his big workout earlier in the morning, but California Chrome, and his attempt at a sweep of the Triple Crown in one week’s time, had as much of a presence Saturday at Belmont as Zivo and his chances to get up in the Commentator Stakes in the day’s actual feature. For the record, Zivo did get up.

What was nice about it all is there didn’t seem to be any of the anguished hand wringing or on-your-knees begging that has accompanied other recent pursuits of the Triple Crown. It could be that California Chrome elicits a calming confidence in the general racing public. If so, I’d like to thank him because I don’t want to hear another person say, “I hope he wins because I just want to see one Triple Crown winner in my lifetime.”

I realize it has been 36 years since Affirmed became our last Triple Crown winner. And I well remember the general relief when Secretariat, in 1973, ended the last long Triple Crown drought at 25 years. But this whole “If he wins, I can die happy” stuff is just way over the top.

Let’s not forget that Real Quiet in 1998 came this close to sweeping the Triple Crown, that Smarty Jones in 2004 should have swept the Triple Crown, and that I’ll Have Another in 2012 absolutely would have swept the Triple Crown. If Real Quiet had waited five more seconds to make his move, if Smarty Jones had not been foolishly asked to run the fastest middle half-mile in Belmont Stakes history, and if I’ll Have Another had only one more day of health, no one would be talking about 36 years.

I’m not in any way diminishing how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown. It is crazy difficult, and that is how it should be. But even though the bottom line is they didn’t complete the sweep, the fact that Real Quiet, Smarty Jones, and I’ll Have Another came as close as they did with legitimate extenuating circumstances is compelling evidence that winning the Triple Crown is not the outright impossible task some folks believe it to be. Some horse will sweep it sooner or later, and without messing with it and sticking more time between the races, and it easily could be as soon as this Saturday.

I know what I’m about to say isn’t something most of you don’t already know. But if California Chrome does complete a Triple Crown sweep Saturday, his achievement will not deliver Thoroughbred racing from all the evils that plague it. It would be a historic, wonderful, feel-good story, and it would put a positive spin on the game in the mainstream media, which would be welcome and worthwhile.

But no matter how much we might want it, a California Chrome Triple Crown sweep will not suddenly win over a new generation of loyal and life-long racing fans. Thoroughbred racing is a sport, and a great one. But at heart, it is a gambling game, and it is betting dollars that enable the show. A sweep of the Triple Crown by California Chrome would be something truly worth celebrating, but it won’t address day-to-day racing integrity and onerous pari-mutuel takeout, the two biggest issues that torment the most important segment of this industry.

Finally, a word about California Chrome himself. I expressed some concern in this space a couple of weeks ago that California Chrome’s Preakness effort might have been too draining, although I also noted that he might recover in the three weeks he had before the Belmont. California Chrome has allayed my fears. I’m not an expert on workouts, but you don’t have to be one to see how impressive California Chrome was in his Saturday workout, especially his gallop out. The video of it is out there. It’s well worth checking out.

Quick notes

I loved the Breeders’ Cup Day-like concept for this Belmont Stakes Day from the moment the NYRA announced it. For me, the only drawback to it was the potential for poor weather, which was really no drawback at all. You can’t and shouldn’t schedule for bad weather, especially months in advance.

Well, we’re less than a week away from the big day now, and here are the extended forecasts (as of Sunday morning) for Saturday from the big three weather services for Elmont, N. Y.: The National Weather Service says mostly sunny with a high near 79. The Weather Channel has it partly cloudy and a high of 76. And AccuWeather says thunderstorms are possible with a high of 79. Does that cover enough bases for you?

Room Service is no Untapable. But with her dominating American Oaks victory Saturday at Santa Anita, Room Service accomplished something that Untapable has yet to do: win a second Grade 1 race.

And that is why you don’t rank horses solely on the basis of graded stakes wins.

Bobby’s Kitten’s performance in Saturday’s Penn Mile at Penn National was a significant step forward in his development. It seemed to me that Bobby’s Kitten was much more willing to settle early. If he cooperates in that manner consistently, he will be in line for many more big days because he is really talented.

I wanted to play the all-stakes pick four Saturday evening at Penn National that ended with the Penn Mile, but I could not bring myself to participate in a wager with a 28 percent takeout.

In fairness, however, this pick four paid very well. Tightend Touchdown won the second leg at $4.40, Last Gunfighter prevailed in the third leg at $3.40, and Bobby’s Kitten paid $4.60 as the third straight winning favorite. The only “hard” horse was Interrupted, $16.60, in the first race of the sequence, the Penn Oaks. Yet this pick four paid $343.60, more than twice the parlay. I know it’s only anecdotal evidence, but this pick four supports the belief that if you can get a price home in the first leg of a multi-race bet, it becomes a far more worthwhile wager to hit.