Belmont Stakes Friday Notes
After three weeks of building crescendo, the anticipation for the Belmont Stakes is just about ready to hit fever pitch. In just a little over 24 hours, California Chrome will take to the Belmont Park track and run for his shot at history, racing's first Triple Crown since 1978.
Today, with the park itself, it seems, echoing his name, Chrome stepped out onto "Big Sandy" to do some of his final prep work. Here are some observations from the morning:
- It's all about California Chrome. As you might expect, every question, every conversation, paratactically every utterance focuses on the colt. It's a chorus of curiosity and intrigue about all things Chrome, including, of course, whether or not he can win the Belmont.
- And about whether or not he can win the Belmont, there's considerable anxiety. Twelve horses have swept the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness since 1978, all 12 have had something go wrong on Long Island. Like the Who, we're trying not to get fooled again. The Belmont's mile and a half distance is a bear, and there are few who can handle it - and we won't know whether Chrome can until he does...or doesn't.
- Generally, the money is on "does" - or at least "can." California Chrome may have entered the Kentucky Derby with doubters, but he'll enter the Belmont with very few. Those at Big Sandy have come to recognize that Chrome is the best - that he is for real and that the race is his his to lose. Even his competition, trainer of Medal Count Dale Romans, seems to agree. "I wasn't a fan going into the Derby, I thought West Coast horses were soft...I was wrong."
- Dale Romans may have needed convincing, but the California Chrome folks never did, and still don't. They're as confident as ever heading into Saturday. Assistant trainer Alan Sherman - the son of trainer Art Sherman who spent the morning at Good Morning America - told the press he loves the way the horse trained in the morning, as he has throughout the week, and pronounced his horse ready. He also said the colt has gained 30 pounds over the Triple Crown, a great sign during a grueling stretch of races that wears on most horses. Passionate owner Steve Coburn was as spirited as ever, saying "I'm looking forward to tomorrow; I'm waiting to see history made...He's going to do it."
- Despite their confidence, you can tell the Triple Crown campaign is wearing on the folks of Dumb Ass Partners. Before he entered, the paddock was entirely cleared out at the request of California Chrome's connections this morning, likely having had enough of the media crush that has pushed them and pulled them in every different direction over the last five weeks. Speaking to a small group of reporters after having spent the morning with ABC and before spending the afternoon with NBC, the aforementioned Coburn admitted it, saying simply "I'm tired," before going on to explain that his colt will be given a long rest after the race, joking "I'm taking him to Tahiti where the women wear no tops." They're tired but they're ready. They just want to race.
- And they'll get a hell of a race. Medal Count, Ride On Curlin, Wicked Strong, Tonalist and others are all ready to take him on, and their breeding suggests they may be more suited to the Belmont's Winner's Circle than he is. If he wins, he'll earn it.
- Because no one is going to give it to him. Asked if there would be any mixed feelings should his colt be the one to deny California Chrome, Dale Romans said "[It will] be 100% jubilation." Trainer of Ride On Curlin Billy Gowan echoed those sentiments, saying "No. [Trainer Art Sherman] didn't have any when he beat me."