Time to Put Triple Crown Drought in Rearview Mirror


California Chrome with his team (From left to right: trainer Art Sherman, assistant trainer Alan Sherman, owner Steve Coburn, exercise rider Willie Delgado). (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)

The mere sound of it can send a chill down the spine.

Thirty-six years.

It’s an imposing amount of time that becomes staggering if you’ve lived through it.

In my own lifetime, I’ve been fortunate to watch three Triple Crowns sweeps from a perch in the grandstand at Belmont Stakes.

The last came on a glorious day in 1978 when a crowd of 65,417 filled Belmont Park to watch Affirmed once again hold off Alydar and become the third Triple Crown champion in five years and 11th overall.

Against that backdrop, it seemed all together logical back then to believe a 12th and 13th and 14th Triple Crown winner would roll around with the regularity of a Presidential election – at the very least.

And why not? In 1978, while watching Affirmed and Alydar in one of the sport’s greatest battles, I was less than a month removed from my college graduation, filled with the typical wealth of dreams and ambitions that comes with youth. The idea of another 25-year drought – the one that separated Citation from Secretariat – seemed ludicrous in the face of seeing in the span of less than one decade Triple Crown champions like Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed and others like Canonero II, Riva Ridge, Little Current and Bold Forbes, who gave life to the words “two out of three ain’t bad.”

Little did I – or anyone at Belmont Park on that June 10 afternoon – how silly that notion proved to be.


Now on Saturday, California Chrome will attempt to become the long-awaited 12th Triple Crown winner and first since 1978.

Thirty-six years.

I could say it flashed past in the blink of an eye, but that would hardly be the truth.

Much has happened since that day when I nervously awaited the posting of the order of finish in the 110th Belmont, hoping against hope that my view from the eighth pole was misleading and that my beloved Alydar had somehow stuck his nose in front. Instead of being a single, unattached 21-year-old college grad, my wife and I watched our middle son graduate from college last month.

He’s now the college grad. Not me. He’s the one wondering what life has in store for him in terms of a career, a family and a home of his own. I’m now the proud but graying and balding dad with an AARP card, a prospect that seemed ions away the last time someone swept the Triple Crown.

No one can slow the march of time, and it’s futile to believe fate can be shaped or altered.

In the last 36 years, a Triple Crown was simply not meant to be and there’s no telling what will happen on Saturday when California Chrome attempts to end the drought.

As certain of a victor as he might seem at this moment, in the last 10 years, Big Brown (2008) and Smarty Jones (2004) seemed even more likely candidates to become the 12th Triple Crown winner. Both failed and Big Brown was pulled up in the Belmont and did not finish the race.

Yet as inevitable as Triple Crown disappointment has become in the last 3 1/2 decades, there’s always the hope that the magic of 1978, 1977 and 1973 will finally be revisited. California Chrome’s victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were not flukes. There was nothing tainted about them. The form that has enabled him to dominate his fellow 3-year-olds did not bloom in the spring as did for some of the 12 “near-misses” since 1978. In all five of his races this year, he has won handily.


Now comes the test of whether he has one more, huge run left in him.

The inherent drama in finding out is expected to bring more than 100,000 people to Belmont Park on Saturday.

The upper levels of the grandstand at Belmont, vacant every other day of the racing year, will be filled once again – just as they were on June 10, 1978.  A deafening roar will arise from it, hinging on the every movement of California Chrome.

The script that was becoming so repetitive in 1978, will come to life again, with perhaps an old ending giving birth to something new, namely memories to replace the fading images of 36 years ago for some of us.

Thirty-six years.

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. But with some help from California Chrome on Saturday, a new generation can experience the euphoria that made the 1970s so unforgettable for a racing fan, and nostalgia can take on a dramatically different shape in 2015.

Last year.

Doesn’t that have a much better sound to it?

$1.5-million Belmont Stakes

Saturday, Belmont Park, Race 11, 6:52 p.m. ET

1 1/2 miles, dirt, 3-year-olds

Television: NBC coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET







Medal Count

Robby Albarado

Dale Romans



California Chrome

Victor Espinoza

Art Sherman




Joe Bravo

Todd Pletcher



Commanding Curve

Shaun Bridgmohan

Dallas Stewart



Ride On Curlin

John Velazquez

Billy Gowan




Mike Smith

Bill Mott




Jose Ortiz

Richard Violette Jr.




Javier Castellano

Todd Pletcher



Wicked Strong

Rajiv Maragh

Jimmy Jerkens



General a Rod

Rosie Napravnik

Mike Maker




Joel Rosario

Christophe Clement


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