California Chrome returned to his home stable on the backstretch at Los Alamitos in Southern California Sunday with a bandaged right hoof and a slightly bruised reputation.
Given that Chrome had a chunk of skin torn away from his right hoof after a collision just after leaving the starting gate, his fourth-place finish less than two lengths behind Tonalist, can only be described as courageous. It was a heck of an effort, even if it was doomed from the start.
The public desperately wanted California Chrome to win the Triple Crown, but among public handicappers I respect, I know of only one who selected California Chrome to win the race and I’m surprised he did it.
The two experts on NBC’s telecast, Bob Neumeier and Mike Battaglia, did not select him either. It was hard to find people who are serious bettors who were willing to risk money that he would do it. They were right.
The best performance by a 3-year-old colt at Belmont Saturday was not turned in by Tonalist or any runners in the Belmont Stakes. It was the eye-popping victory by Bayern in the Woody Stephens Stakes earlier in the day. The Woody Stephens is a seven-furlong race and had a field that in some ways was better than the Belmont. It was a group of horses that didn’t want to be tested by the 12 furlongs of the Belmont Stakes, but were fast and accomplished. Bayern blew away the field by 7 1/2 lengths in near track-record time.
Bayern finished 21 lengths behind California Chrome in the Preakness, but lost any chance of contending in the first two furlongs when his jockey, Rosie Napravnik, guided him into traffic twice. He never recovered.
If Bayern and California Chrome meet again at a distance of a mile and an eighth or a mile and a quarter, Bayern would be favored. I think Bayern would beat California Chrome, too. In fact, there were six or seven horses in the Woody Stephens I’d probably like over Chrome in a race later this summer. Heck, I might even like a horse named the Big Beast better, and he just won his first race of his career at Belmont Sunday. He looks like he has a big future.
Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, has said he’s going to give Chrome a well-deserved rest and then prepare for this fall’s Breeders’ Cup. He’s not the type of trainer to keep a horse in the barn if he’s ready to run, so I’m assuming we’ll see Chrome sooner rather later.
What Sherman and the owners should do is run him in races for California breds at Del Mar in August. There’s lots of money to be made in the Fleet Treat or Real Good Deal stakes, and California Chrome would stand head and shoulders above the competition.
If they decide to test the best horses again, I don’t think the outcome will be good. There were numerous 3-year-olds who missed the Triple Crown because of injuries – like Honor Code, Cairo Prince, and Shared Belief – who might be ready for the big races in August and later.
It was great while it lasted, but for California Chrome the best is not yet to come.