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A Real Horse Race

2:01 PM, Jun 7, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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It has been a while since there has been a winner of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.  Thirty-six years, in fact.  Twelve horses have had a chance before today, when California Chrome gets a shot in the Belmont. Eleven of those horses came up short and one did not run.  When Affirmed won the Belmont in 1978, the horse became the third Triple Crown winner of the 70’s, back in a time when thoroughbred racing, handicapping, and turf writing were still in their glory.

In the long, arid years since, the sport has fallen off badly.  Too many competitors for the leisure time and interest of most Americans.  And, not incidentally, you don’t need to go to the track to make a $2 wager.  You can do that when you buy gas at a convenience store.

So it would be good for the sport if California Chrome could win this afternoon. The horse comes with a nice, heartwarming underdog story. Going up against the aristocrats from Kentucky it has to be the choice of the common people. And, wouldn’t it be nice to pull for a winner in the sporting world.  We like great champions, even when they have four feet.

Consider, for instance, Secretariat, Triple Crown winner in 1973. The big red horse was to its sport what Michael Jordan became to his.  Not just the greatest ever, but occupying in some way, a different realm and dwelling there alone.  Secretariat, in the lead up to his Triple Crown, appeared on the covers of TimeNewsweek, and Sports Illustrated.  Which is a trifecta in and of itself.  And the horse didn’t just win.  He dominated.

Which naturally inspired the bards.  There has never been a piece of turf writing like William Nack’s ode to Secretariat. Which you might  want to re-read before post time (6:52 EST).  If you haven’t already read it, then you simply must.  

And, to get further into the mood, watch this clip of Secretariat winning the Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown, by an astounding 31 lengths. This kind of greatness is sublime.

Hard to believe any horse will ever match that one. But it will be interesting to watch California Chrome, and to pull for him, just the same.

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