John Piesen: The Bubble Bursts

THE BUBBLE BURSTS

By John Piesen

I must have read or heard a thousand times during Belmont Week that California Chrome needed to win the Belmont Stakes, and thereby become the first Triple
Crown winner in 36 years, to save horse racing.

Balderdash, I said, or words to that effect.

If California Chrome had won the Belmont, would that mean that Charley and the gang would head off to Belmont, or Monmouth, or Churchill Downs for a day of
racing this week…or, ipso facto, if CC didn't, the boys would head for the beach, or a round of golf, or even sit around he TV watching golf, soccer, baseball, et al.?

Actually, in my own convuted thinking, Chrome's loss, by keeping the streak going, paves the way for another Triple Crown shot in 2015, and, if things go right, maybe another six-figure crowd at Belmont Park.

So maybe Chrome's loss is good for racing!

Personally, unlike previous years, when I was disappointed that the likes of Alysheba, Real Quiet, Silver Charm and especially Smarty Jones lost their
TC hopes in he Belmont, I never was a big fan of California Chrome.

I've always liked blazed chestnuts, and Chrome's connections, especially the trainers Art Sherman, made for great theater, I never once became or thought of becoming a "chromie".

I picked against CC in all his three Triple Races, I felt he enjoyed superior luck winning the Derby and Preakess with untroubled  trips, and I believed he was beating an inferior crop of three-year-olds, watered down by injuries and illnesses to the likes of Honor Code, Shared Belief, Havana, New Year's Day, Top Billing and the Pletcher brigade.

That said, I want to take this opportunity to commend California Chrome for a fantastic performance in the Belmont. As far as I was concerned, he
was much more impressive in defeat than he was in winning the Derby and Preakness.

In those two races, CC enjoyed perfect trips at his optimum distances under good handling by jockey Victor Espinoza.

But two stats coming into the Belmont really caught my attention. 1) Espinoza, based virtually his entire career in California, was 2-for-67 entering Belmont Week…and, of course he was matched up mostly against New York regulars, and 2) the last nine Belmont winners had not run in the Preakness. Not since Afleet Alex in 2005. Tonalist makes 10.

After three weeks of media saturation, got away at a respectable 4-5. If he had won, folks would have called it an overlay. After all he was 3-5 in the morning line. And the price went up.

At one point in the betting, CC was 2-5, which means he was in the 7-5 range in the late betting. Meantime, Tonalist was dropping like a stone from 14-1
down to 9-1 at post.

Chrmies feared the start...and they were proven so right.

The connections were thrilled to land post two, while most of the contention was stranded outside. But the thrill vanished when Matterhorn, the
40-1 rank outsider, hung a left at the start, bumping CC, and causing CC to grab a quarter.

So CC ran the entire mile and a half with a bloodied foot, was caught inside in traffic for more than a mile, and when he swung four-wide on the turn (the worst possible place to lose ground). he found himself not with the clear lead he's used to, but just one of several (mostly fresh) horses in a cavalry charge to the wire.

The fact that CC was beaten less than two lengths after this trip was nothing short of remarkable.

Chrome's connections are telling us their horse will get a vacation, and then be pointed for the Breeders' Cup. Good luck there.

Personally, I believe we will see a retirement announcement long before we ever see Chrome in the Breeders' Cup where Palace Malice would be waiting for him.

Palace Malace is trained by Todd Pletcher, who was a major player on Belmont Day on which he ran 17 horses in the 13 races. 

I read somewhere in the Form that the Toddster had a great day because his horses earned $1.4 million.

Good for you as the young girl says to Grant Hill in the TV commercial.

But not so good for the bettors. Todd went 1-for-17, the one being Palace Malice at $4.20 in the Met Mile.

Todd did all he could do in the Belmont. When Matterhorn and California Chrome locked horns at the break, Commissioner, the stronger half of Todd's uncoupled entry, was able to make the lead at the first turn, and stayed in front to the last jump when Tonalist nailed him, replicating their one-two finish in the Peter Pan.

Reminds me. In our pre-race column, we made a major point of Joel Rosario's decision to ride Tonalist rather than Ride On Curlin (who was pulled up by Johnny Velasquez).

Speaking of Johnny V, he and Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride four on Saturday afternoon at Belmont, then catch a flight to Louisville to ride longshots Prayer for Relief and Long River respectively, in the weekend headliner, the 500K Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, a Grade One at nine-furlongs for 3 and up.

The race also attracted Will Take Charge and Golden Ticket, both Travers winners, but the favorite will be the Toddster-trained Revolutionary from the
rail with Mike Smith.

All five horses mentioned in the last two paragraphs are closers.

The main speed is Moonshine Mullin, with Calvin Borel up. This guy was running for a tag at Remington Park last year, and was claimed by Randy Morse for 40K. On Saturday night, he'll be facing the reigning 3-year-old champion (Will Take Charge) and other stars.

What a story that would make.

The Foster, to be run as race eight at 9:42 p.m. Eastern, is the third of four successive graded stakes:

The picks here are: Rise Up in the Matt Winn; Fiftyshadesofhay in the Fleur de Lis Handicap; Moonshine Mullin in the Foster, and A Little Bit
Sassy
in the Regret.

There will be a Pick 4 on the four graded stakes.

Churcill will present the Derby trophy to California Chrome's connections following race four, but strangely neither the jockey nor the trainer will be there.

Thanks for tuning in. Enjoy the soccer, the golf, the hockey, the hoops and the baseball…but especially the races. My selections as usual can be found on-line at www.johnpiesen.com.

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