Exercise rider Willie Delgado and California Chrome survey the surroundings. (All photos courtesy of Julie June Stewart)
I have stood at this abyss before. As I look across the history of the Triple Crown, I have allowed myself to dream, year after year. We have waited 36 years for our next champion to emerge. Like an eternal philosopher, I have learned to wisely restrain my dreams. But like a young maiden who has never witnessed a Triple Crown in person, my heart sings with joy that we are again at the dance, all dressed up to extol the winner to glory and poised to celebrate.
Our new contender, California Chrome, has already proven himself on the track, winning the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. Make no mistake about it, he is the “real deal,” especially in his fans hearts. I am personally willing to open the door and believe that he could be the one to do it.
With a storyline that only Walt Disney could have crafted, “Junior” (California Chrome’s barn name) is a flashy chestnut colt. Flashy means that he is a good-looking colt. He has four white stockings and a wide white blaze, which is adorned with a cute red freckle. He likes to stand and take in the sights before he heads to work in the mornings. He has a loving family supporting him; his owners knew he was special long before the world discovered him and they have rebuffed some amazing offers to buy the colt. His trainer has crafted an old-school approach that had many shaking their head until California Chrome started winning.
The relationship between California Chrome and his exercise rider, Willie Delgado, is beautiful and they are seen each morning sharing some love. When it is time to race, California Chrome seems to send a personal challenge to his competitors as he struts his stuff in the paddock before proceeding to win six straight and counting.
I am deeply moved when I see Mr. Delgado wrap his arms around California Chrome in the morning. It’s like he understands that it is important to take in each moment. Time can be fleeting when it comes to being part of a racehorse’s career with many young colts quickly retired to stud upon winning a major race and young fillies quickly become broodmares. So the moments shared together at the track are stitched in our hearts. In California Chrome’s case, fans find themselves standing for hours waiting for his arrival from the airport. We show up at the track for his 6:30 a.m. jogs. Crowds have been showing up to cheer his morning workouts and dozens of photographers lay in the mud trying to get the perfect bath photo. Throughout it all, the colt seems to stop time as he poses for the photographers.
He is known as “the people’s horse” and “America’s horse.” I have to say that he has not brought the usual histrionics of “East Coast/West Coast” bias comments. He seems to be highly respected and well-loved from coast to coast, igniting hopes and dreams.
Is it OK to dream? Is it OK to want a Triple Crown? We have stood together witnessing the yearly attempts. In 2008, I sat in silent shock and sadness when Big Brown was pulled up. In 2012, I stood outside the security barn and watched my media friends scramble during the press conference when I'll Have Another was sadly scratched before the Belmont Stakes.
Of course, there are pundits and naysayers who state that a Triple Crown can’t be won in today's day and age. My only response is to yell: “Swing for the fence, Junior!” at the chestnut. I admit that I am a dreamer.
So once again, I emptied out my coffers to indulge in airline tickets, hotel bills and rental cars. I packed my suitcases with hopes and dreams, and I slipped in some strands of purple and green Mardi Gras beads into the side pocket. But something is different. I bought my Triple Crown airline tickets last August. When I reviewed my Breeders’ Cup photos from last November, there was one horse on the undercard who I took more pictures of than any other horse. I was stunned to see that it was California Chrome. I smiled when I realized that I had already picked this horse out of the crowd last year.
California Chrome is riding the groundswell of social media, and he has some wonderful competition with Ride On Curlin, Wicked Strong, and Commanding Curve, among others. And I will cheer for the winner! But I have to admit that I am living for an iconic Secretariat moment and hoping that Saturday afternoon will bring us a new champion to celebrate as he charges down the stretch of “Big Sandy”.
So bring on the Belmont. This is the perfect track for history in the making. It’s OK to dream. It’s OK to want a hero. And if it’s this flashy, red colt, then I am all in.
TRIPLE CHROME BOUND