06/04/2014 11:57AM

Jerardi: History is irrelevant in California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid

Barbara D. Livingston
Triple Crown contender California Chrome has won six consecutive stakes, four graded, three Grade 1s. He has earned three Beyer Speed Figures of 105 or more.

I am not quite sure what Spectacular Bid, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Smarty Jones have to do with Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, other than that their names will get typed thousands of times this week as reasons why California Chrome can’t win.

I am going to give you the most obvious reason why he can win: California Chrome is the best horse.

So, let’s start there and forget the history. Whenever anybody cites history in sporting events, I cringe. I don’t care what happened between Auburn and Alabama in 1986. I want to know who is playing today. I will evaluate these players and these coaches.
So, let’s evaluate the Belmont Stakes in the context of 2014. Let’s not be afraid of what happened in 1979, 1997, 1998, or 2004.

California Chrome has won six consecutive stakes, four graded, three Grade 1s. He has earned three Beyer Speed Figures of 105 or more. The likely opposition has won a combined four graded stakes on dirt: one Grade 1, one Grade 2, and two Grade 3s. None has ever reached 105 on the Beyer scale.

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If we were not all spooked by so many near misses and locks that were not locks, this Belmont would be about as complicated as this Derby and this Preakness. One horse stood out in both races on form. That horse, California Chrome, ran right to his form.
Why, really, should the Belmont be different?

Third race in five weeks? Check. Four solid horses (Wicked Strong, Commanding Curve, Samraat, Medal Count) with five weeks off between the Derby and Belmont? Check. Two tough Triple Crown participants (Ride On Curlin and General a Rod)? Check. A very impressive newcomer (Tonalist)? Check. The bizarre distance? Check.

California Chrome? Checkmate.

Everybody I talk with says they want to try to beat California Chrome. I don’t because A) I think he is going to win, and B) I wouldn’t know where to go if I didn’t think he was going to win.

If it’s not California Chrome, a reasonable case certainly could be made for Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong. If he runs back to the 104 Beyer he got in the Wood, that is going to give him a serious chance. And when I watch his races, I see a colt who struggles a bit on the turns. You would think Belmont Park’s sweeping turns would be much better for a horse who does his best running on the straightaway.

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If it’s not California Chrome, I could make a case for Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes winner Tonalist, especially if Joel Rosario, who is so good on front-runners, can clear the field, spread the race out just a touch, and get into the stretch with a lead. Any jockey who finishes like Laffit Pincay Jr. is always going to be hard to pass.

I do not think Commanding Curve is your typical late-running Derby plodder who got lucky. Remember, he was running behind a slow pace. And the other CC definitely was not plodding when he came by where I was watching at the eighth pole. He was flying.

All that said, the best horse is still the best horse. And you know what else? California Chrome is not only the best horse, he is also the fastest horse. I am convinced that Victor Espinoza could have put him in front in the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, or the Preakness.

Remember that California Chrome was battling for the lead in 4 1/2-furlong and 5 1/2-furlong races last spring. This is a naturally fast horse who just happens to do whatever his jockey wants him to do.

The biggest winning margin (7 1/4 lengths) in California Chrome’s career came in the San Felipe Stakes. It is the only race in which he led all the way. I do not think that the way he ran the race and the margin of victory were a coincidence.

If Chrome breaks sharply and the other jockeys are waiting around to see what everybody else is doing, Espinoza should put his colt on the lead, gallop them to sleep for six furlongs, get away from most of them on the turn, and then outsprint them the last quarter-mile.

When has loose-on-the-lead ever been a bad thing? I know Art Sherman has said that California Chrome loves a target, and I would never question anything Sherman says these days. But Sherman also was a jockey and knows that no horse ever got in trouble on the lead.

The good news is that California Chrome hardly needs a clear lead to win. He can win any kind of way. By the way, the last four Triple Crown winners (Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed) all won the Belmont Stakes the same way – in front at every call.