Mac Engel

June 4, 2014

Why we should all be pulling for California Chrome

Horse racing is giving us a rare must-see moment when California Chrome runs in the Belmont.

A word of warning for the good folks running the bar at Mr. Randy Galloway’s hotel in the Turks and Caicos Islands on Saturday: Make sure the Belmont Stakes is available on TV.

Hell hath no fury like Mr. Randy not being able to find his sporting event of choice at a hotel bar. This is not a joke. Imagine a baby crying for his bottle, only with a deep Texas drawl and a few more four-letter words.

“By the time we get there, they’ll have three hours to find it,” Randy said.

If it were most years’ Belmont Stakes, hotel bars would not need to worry about flipping over to the race. Chances are great that you are like the rest of America and don’t follow horse racing other than the Kentucky Derby, as a rite of spring, and maybe the Belmont Stakes if there is a shot at a Triple Crown winner.

If you are a sports fan at all, and have any interest in this country’s sporting past, join Mr. Randy in front of a TV on Saturday afternoon to watch California Chrome’s run at the Belmont.

Maybe go to Lone Star Park and buy a $2.50 ticket on California Chrome to have a keepsake and a link to one of America’s greatest sporting accomplishments. California Chrome has won the first two legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown — the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

We watch sports for a variety of reasons, tops on the list is the chance to see something special, witnessing an event that seldom occurs.

A Triple Crown winner is one of those things that “never” occurs.

On Wednesday morning, California Chrome drew the No. 2 post in the 11-horse field; he is currently a 3-5 favorite.

“I think the industry really needs a shot in the arm, and [to see] that a horse can still win the Triple Crown,” veteran trainer Bret Calhoun of Grand Prairie said. Calhoun had a horse run the Kentucky Oaks this year. “Things have changed over the years, and it just seems much tougher to get this done. It seems like we have had horses in the past that have been in position to get this done and just can’t. You have to be an iron horse. You have to be a special horse.”

California Chrome might not be a special horse, but what he is doing very much qualifies next to sports’ most aberrational and mythical achievements.

I asked Calhoun if, from what his eyes told him, California Chrome compared to the last three Triple Crown winners — Affirmed, Seattle Slew or Secretariat.

“It’s hard to compare, but not really,” he said. “Watching him train, and there is nothing breathtaking about him.”

Basically, to qualify as an “all-time horse,” the steed needs to blow away the field by several lengths all the time.

And if we were comparing baseball’s most recent Triple Crown winner — Miguel Cabrera to Carl Yastrzemski — maybe it would matter that California Chrome fails the eyeball test compared to the other greats.

Right now, California Chrome only compares to the other 12 horses since 1979 that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and were denied their chance at sports immortality at the Belmont.

Maybe California Chrome’s wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness were because of weak fields. Maybe if you put California Chrome on the same track as Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, War Admiral or any other “all-time” horse, he would be smoked.

Don’t care. Since it has been 36 years since Affirmed won the Triple Crown, leave the comparison debates to the horse heads.

My interest in seeing California Chrome win Saturday is the desperate sports desire to have a Triple Crown winner of my own. To have a Triple Crown winner not just for horse racing, but for an entire generation of fans.

To be able to say, “I remember when California Chrome won the Triple Crown.” Because after Saturday, we will never see him again.

Unlike the good ol’ days when a great horse would continue to run after his chance at the Triple Crown ended, 10 seconds after the Belmont is over California Chrome will be retired to stud, thereby making his owners buhzillionaires. It has become the impossible part of this sport — the best athletes retire before, or in the middle of, their prime.

If California Chrome does not win Saturday, in less than two weeks, we will require The Google Machine to recall his name.

Calhoun believes California Chrome is strong enough to pull off the marathon 1 1/2-mile race at Belmont and defeat a field that features what Calhoun said, “has closers.”

When California Chrome rounds the final turn, and comes down the stretch, he will have a nation behind him. Hopefully, there will be 10 other horses behind him, too.

So join Mr. Randy and make sure you know where you will be watching the Belmont, and history.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at

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