06/05/2014 12:20PM

Hovdey: California Chrome arrives at moment of truth or dare

Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome, walking the shed row, deserves a chance to keep racing if he completes the Triple Crown on Saturday at Belmont Park.

The melting point of chromium is 3,465 degrees Fahrenheit, 1,857 degrees Centigrade, or 20 minutes spent in an underground New York City garage on a warm weekday evening waiting for someone to find your rental car.

If California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes on Saturday to become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown, he will have withstood more heat and more pressure than any American Thoroughbred since Affirmed said “no means no” to Alydar 36 years ago.

::2014 BELMONT STAKES: Latest news, video, PPs, and more

If California Chrome wins, he will honor the Triple Crown heartbreaks of Silver Charm being ambushed in the last yards by Touch Gold, of Real Quiet nipped at the very end by Victory Gallop, of Smarty Jones, that most generous of Thoroughbreds, fighting back a wave of attacks until he had nothing left to answer Birdstone.

If California Chrome wins, he should get the key to every city with a racetrack, every town near a horse farm. How about a ticker-tape parade down Broadway? Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will be in the Belmont crowd, could make that happen. At the very least, if he wins, this time next week, California Chrome should be grazing on the White House lawn.

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The pain threshold for the human ear is a sound that reaches the level of 120 to 130 decibels. The loudest crowd noise on record is 137.6, which occurred at a Seattle Seahawks home game in 2013. If California Chrome wins the Belmont, there will be a wall of noise arising from the grand old track that could threaten the record, or, at the very least, challenge the sound made by the loudest rock-band performance ever measured, at 129.5. The name of the band was Manowar.

If California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes, there will be reason for sports fans, both young and not so young, to put away the balls and bats and hoops and pucks for at least a brief moment to consider this other game played daily across the land. Or not. Their loss.

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But if California Chrome wins, and the Triple Crown becomes a living thing once again, there can be no hesitation by the leaders of the sport to take swift and serious action to enact reforms that not only will begin to patch the public-relations holes in the game but effect fundamental changes that marry the best of how it used to be and how it should be.

That is why, if California Chrome wins Saturday, the racing game will lose if the conversation turns immediately to his value as a stallion, of how this gorgeous young creature can be monetized, then disappear, never to be heard from again as a sports icon. All Triple Crown winners are deemed great. But the truly great racehorses among them have gone on to even more remarkable accomplishments as they aged. If California Chrome wins, he deserves the chance to join them.

There are still good colts in his way, but if California Chrome loses the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, it will be because he has been able somehow to hide from trainer Art Sherman and his diligent crew the true amount that is left in the tank. The great ones can be that way — impenetrable and private, cleaning their feed and otherwise acting as if all is well.

Lost in the Fog, the finest young sprinter of the past decade, was growing malignant tumors while standing in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs after winning the Aristides Handicap in 2006. Three months later, he was gone. Bedside Promise, a vibrant performer in sprints and routes, finished an inexplicable last one day at Bay Meadows in the fall of 1987 and then dropped dead on the way back to the barn. His heart had stopped, but an autopsy revealed that a staph-like infection had been ruining his lungs. He just hadn’t bothered to show any symptoms.

The Triple Crown is worth a lot but also costs a lot. Just as vivid as the memories of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed at their moment of Belmont glory are the images of Big Brown, befuddled and eased, of Charismatic and Tim Tam finishing on three good legs, of Count Fleet, a runaway Triple Crown champion who stood in the Belmont Stakes winner’s circle with a damaged front ankle, never to race again.

If California Chrome wins the Triple Crown, it will be not only because he is a fast horse, but also a smart horse and a brave horse, untroubled by unexpected sights and sounds, curious without unreasonable fear. His instinct for self-preservation was dramatically illustrated in his first encounters with the foreign racing surface at Churchill Downs in the week before the Kentucky Derby, when he tread carefully – “like a cat walking on water,” according to exercise rider Willie Delgado – until the colt was convinced that he could exert himself without harm.

California Chrome’s people never begrudge his caution. When he stands and surveys the scene each morning before finally heading to the track, the colt, even at the tender age of 3, is asserting his role as a hard-wired pack leader.

“I’ll look at him sometimes and wonder what he’s thinking,” Sherman said. “I realize I’ll never know. But I’ve got to pay attention in case he needs me.”

Just like the game always needs a horse on which to hang its hopes and dreams.

If California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes ...

Art More than 1 year ago
Can horses be smart and brave?
Hail No More than 1 year ago
His ex rider said that Chrome, when he first got to CD, "acclimated" himself to the track, which was far different than SA, and that once Chrome was "comfortable" with CD's track, he worked with brio.
Virginia Petit More than 1 year ago
"a smart horse and a brave horse"--I keep coming back to this article for those words and Sherman's "in case he needs me." This is a horse and connections to root for with all your heart. Win or lose they deserve all the love their fans are sending them.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Safe trips to all...
TomPHickey More than 1 year ago
Does the number of horses in this race show a lack of respect for Chrome? Matterhorn, matuzack? Commissioner. None of these horses have won anything, and apparently are there since breeding says they might get the distance. I hope one of them isn't just used as a rabbit, or just solely to box Chrome in at all costs. You should be running your race to win, not make someone else lose. I think it's all about the Derby horses and Tonalist. The rest are taking up space. I'll box up a Superfecta using those.
Jaime Dubyna More than 1 year ago
It's a $1.5 million purse, and a horse hasn't won the Crown in 36 years. The colts entered are nice colts, why not try?
Tyler Mathis More than 1 year ago
Because they don't rate to be there, that's why. There are legitimate longshots in this race--Samraat, for example--but Matuzak and Matterhorn just don't belong at this level.
jon g More than 1 year ago
Bet against and hit the last few horses going for the TC.But,I think CC is too good for this field and wins ...unless Espinoza screws up which is a huge possibility
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
enough with the wax poetic,if he is good enough he wil win if not then join hte ranks of the others who have failed in the last 36 years,,does he belong with real quiet,smrty jones,charismatic, funnycide, war emblem,big brown or are the gates open for him to join big red,slew,affirmed. only a mile an a half will tell at big sandy,the great equalizer and hurdle to the pretenders. i would like to se espinozanot pull a desourmeaux by choking down his horse to try to get the distance and let chrome go to the front where he belongs and lets see what he is made of.
Mike De Stefano More than 1 year ago
Wicked Strong will play the spoiler
Phil Johnwell More than 1 year ago
Wicked Strong will be lucky to hit the board !
Phil Johnwell More than 1 year ago
To the gamblers and the negative folks...Only a man made situation changes the out come !!! Let's win one for the small Guy ! Alot of those horses don't even belong in the race..Look at the facts and stop being stupid.....How many horses in the race have even won 2 grade 1 rraces ???? A horse that didn't qualify for the Derby shouldn't have the right to run in the Belmont !
Frederick Jones More than 1 year ago
"A horse that didn't qualify for the Derby shouldn't have the right to run in the Belmont".... what an idiot.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
This is all just starting to get a little silly. Lets try to remember we are talking about a horse race after all.no one is curing cancer here..CHROME should win because he is the most talented animal in the field and I emphasize animal like most other horses his dudu still stinks. The variables to everything going right are huge. He needs to wake up feeling well after a decent nights sleep not step on or kick anything .then not get frightened by the huge crowds and stay cool all the way to the post ,he then needs a decent break and hope that other jockeys are not on a seek and destroy mission and play fair. Then he must avoid taking a bad step or getting boxed in.and if all that goes well then his natural ability should get him to the line first. point is these are not machines a lot of dudu can happen. As far as racing itself it will survive regardless and despite the idiots that run it.even if.
bill n More than 1 year ago
But they have to make him earn it.