California Chrome won the Preakness yesterday and may become the first racehorse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, but he hasn't yet come close to matching any of the record-setting times Secretariat put up in winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1973. Considered by many to be the greatest racehorse ever, Secretariat amazingly smashed the records for fastest times in all three of the jewels of the Triple Crown.
With jockey Ron Turcotte aboard, Big Red ran the fastest Kentucky Derby ever to defeat second place Sham who ran the second fastest Derby at that time. Two weeks later Secretariat raced around Pimlico Track once again with world class speed to break the Preakness States record and again defeat the talented Sham in a dramatic finish.
But it was in the Belmont three weeks later when Secretariat ran arguably the greatest race in thoroughbred history. The next horse wasn't even in the picture when Big Red crossed the finish line. Some estimated the distance back to second place as 33 lengths while others thought it was even longer.
One of the announcers that day said, "And the second place horse is in a different zip code."
Hall of Fame golfer Jack Nicklaus, who watched the race on television from his home, said he actually broke down and cried on that June day in 1973. Nicklaus later explained, "It was because Secretariat accomplished that day what all athletes attempt to do in their careers. Achieve perfection. I saw him achieve what I had strived to do my whole career."
While the trainers of most racehorses eye the mile and a half distance of the Belmont with trepidation because it is such a long journey, Secretariat hardly broke a sweat when he jauntily crossed the finish line that day after destroying a quality field. Owner Penny Chenery deserved all the credit in the world for turning down offers to purchase the super horse before he made history by winning the Triple Crown. After the Pimlico timing device malfunctioned, Ms. Chenery went to a great deal of effort to have Secretariat's correct time established only two years ago.
While California Chrome has come nowhere near Secretariat's blazing times in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, he has shared a similar trait of Big Red's. He knows how to win big races. He held off serious charges from two quality horses in the homestretch to win the Preakness yesterday (Saturday).
And his owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, like Ms. Chenery, turned down several offers to sell Chrome even before the Kentucky Derby victory. The thrill of possibly winning the Triple Crown was more important to them.
Secretariat's record time in the Preakness is one minute and 53 seconds which is better than Tank's Prospect, Louis Quatorze and Curlin who are now tied at second with a time of 1:53 2/5. With jockey Victor Espinoza aboard, California Chrome posted a respectable time of 1:54 4/5 in this week's Preakness.
Chrome finished a length and a half ahead of Ride On Curlin who had finished seventh in the Derby.
Coburn, from Reno, Nev., works for a company that makes magnetic strips for credit cards and hotel keys. Martin and his wife own a materials testing frim in Sacramento. While they are not financially competititive with the Rockefellers, they proved that they, along with trainer Art Sherman are intelligent enough to compete with the best in the horse-racing world.
Sherman is a great story himself. At age 77, he proved that while life may be short, it is up to the individual as to how productively it is lived. To him there is no such thing as a mandatory retirement age.
While no horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed did it in 1978 with a youthful Steve Cauthen piloting him, no one would be wise to bet against Art Sherman in the Belmont. Sherman has already shown he's not a quitter by becoming the oldest trainer to ever win the Kentucky Derby.
Born in Brooklyn, he has spent the past 60 years in barns and on backstretches having worked his way from stable boy, exercise rider and jockey to trainer, according to an article in today's Washington Post. He has fewer than 20 horses at his modest stable near Los Alamitos, California. But it's a family operation with a staf consisting largely of family. His son and wife both work with him.
His life has not changed much even since the Derby win, but his wife did buy him a new suit on the eve of the Run for the Roses. It is the first suit he has ever owned as a trainer.
While California Chrome has been compared to Seabiscuit, who suffered several losses early in his career before he found his stride, he will probably not match Secretariat's record in the Belmont. But he may very well become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
In only three weeks the racing world will find out the answer to that question. Regardless of the outcome of that race, California Chrome and the people who surround him are already winners.
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