The Sport of Kings, appropriately, is about as relevant as the monarchy. Horse racing needs a California Chrome Triple Crown bid almost as badly as it needs slot machines in the lobby.
Hallelujah, not even the human element is going to muck up this one. New York racing officials Monday announced that Chrome could wear 4-by-6-inch breathing strips across his nose in the June 7 Belmont Stakes. They are an enlarged version of the strip that your Uncle Teddy uses to prevent snoring Aunt Rose out of the house.
The same state that allows its horses to run on the anti-bleeding medication Lasix apparently had problems with a tricked up Band-Aid. That’s like baseball allowing PEDs but cracking down on eye-black.
Precedent was not with California Chrome. In 2012, New York was not going to allow I’ll Have Another to wear the same strips he had worn in winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Didn’t matter — I’ll Have Another was scratched shortly before the Belmont with a leg problem.
Having little time to celebrate a strong victory in Saturday’s Preakness, California Chrome’s septuagenarian trainer said his horse might not go in the June 7 Belmont if he couldn’t use the breathing strips. “He’s very funny about things like that,” Art Sherman said, as if the horse was crunching options in his stable.
No such unthinkable decision is now required.
Now all the horse has to do is run and win. There’s a reason there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. It’s hard. And the mile-and-a-half Belmont is the most difficult test of them all. A dozen horses have won the first two legs since ’78, only to falter at the Belmont for a rich variety of reasons. In 1978 Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin shortly before the race. In 2008, one of Big Brown’s hooves was cracked, another threw a shoe during the race.
And here over the weekend the future of a potential history-maker was hanging by the end of a small adhesive patch. Such trifle was quickly settled, though. What a rare victory for common sense, which perpetually goes off as a 50-to-1 shot.
There are no sheiks or hedge fund managers involved in the California Chrome story. Both ownership and breeding lines — mom was an $8,000 horse, the breeding fee was all of $2,000 — are of the everyday variety that the casual horse racing fan (which is to say everyone) seems to get behind.
For the love of Seabiscuit, the lords of racing have allowed the sport to breathe.