The Belmont

Jun 4, 2014 By Steven R. Peck

For a few weeks this spring, there's something to root for with no strings attached

One reason there is so much interest in this Saturday's Belmont Stakes (that's a horse race, in case you have been in a coma recently) might be that it gives Americans something to think about, to have in common, to care about, and to root for that doesn't have many strings attached.

Unfortunately, there aren't many things that fill that bill anymore. Virtually everything must be framed by the arguments of politics, the competing interests of business, the parochialism of geography, the skepticism of science, the indignation of the modern American offense culture, or the simple rivalry of preference.

But California Chrome, the beautiful thoroughbred that could win horse racing's first Triple Crown since the 1970s, isn't a politician, a preacher, a banker, a TV talking head, a blogger, an angry parent, a media tycoon, a business mogul, a protester, a general, a lecturer or a salesman.

He's just a horse.

California Chrome doesn't have a position on health care or carbon emissions. He doesn't need a mortgage or a smartphone. He doesn't care if you are gay or if you don't like wolves. He doesn't watch "Dancing with the Stars" or care who wins the Stanley Cup. He's never watched a YouTube video, and he isn't worrying about getting a job, getting into college, getting a raise, or getting a new car. And he won't read this newspaper editorial. He's not a registered voter, and he has no opinion on Edward Snowden, Kim Kardashian, the president's birth certificate, long lines at airport security, or your neighbor's barking dog.

Paper or plastic? Coke or Pepsi? Harvard or Yale? Dog or cat? Ford or Chevy? Viagra or Cialis? Vladimir Putin? Bashir Assad? Chris Christie? Hillary Clinton? Your new haircut? The reservation border? Your kid's soccer coach?

California Chrome doesn't give a damn. He just wants to gallop.

So, on Saturday, he'll take his place in the starting gate at the big track on Long Island with about a dozen other horses, wait for the bell, and run as fast as he can for a mile and a half.

If he wins, he'll be the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes in the same spring since a svelte, deer-like glider named Affirmed did it in 1978.

California Chrome, of course, won't know that. But we will.

The copper-colored colt will be the favorite in the race, but the thing he is trying to do has become next to impossible. If you normally don't follow racing, then you might not realize just how hard it is.

California Chrome is the latest sure thing in a long line of them since Affirmed nosed out Alydar in 1978. Remember Sunday Silence? Remember Silver Charm and Funny Cide? They were big favorites in the Belmont but lost. Smarty Jones? Ditto. Big Brown? Couldn't lose, but did.

Maybe, however ... maybe this horse, with a no-name mother and a low-priced father, with a crusty old trainer who last tasted the Triple Crown races more than 50 years ago as a stable boy and exercise rider, whose owners often seem as if they just stepped out of a truck stop on I-80 ... maybe this horse will be the one to pull it off.

Far fewer people care about horse racing now than they did the last time there was a Triple Crown winner. Outside the Triple Crown races and a few others, the sport has struggled for years. But in 2014, lots of us care again, at least for a few weeks. That's a good thing, win or lose. It will only take about two and a half minutes to run the race. But that will be some two and a half minutes. It would be nice if we had more than five weeks, more than 150 seconds to feel a joint sense of excitement, good will and common rooting interest.

But we'll take it.

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