Trainer Billy Gowan is among those who will try to spoil California Chrome's run for the elusive Triple Crown.
Gowan says there's another way to spoil the Triple Crown: space the three-race test of speed and endurance out over more than the traditional five weeks.
"Leave it like it is. There's no reason to do that. Then it would be watering it down," Gowan said Monday at Belmont Park, where his horse, Ride On Curlin, will challenge California Chrome on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.
The Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May, the Preakness Stakes is held two weeks later and the Belmont three weeks after that. No horse since Affirmed in 1978 has passed all three tests to win the Triple Crown.
If Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, had his way, the sequence would be: Derby on the first Saturday in May, Preakness on the first Saturday in June and Belmont on the first Saturday in July.
Chuckas acknowledges that format would help the Preakness attract a better-quality field. California Chrome was one of just three horses from the 19-horse Derby field that ran in this year's 10-horse Preakness.
Good for business?
Chuckas says the format would benefit the racing industry by spreading its showcase series out over two months, it would be better for the health of the horses and it would better fit modern training methods that typically entail giving horses a month or more off between races.
"People might say you will have to put an asterisk by the horse who wins the Triple Crown under these conditions," Chuckas says.
But he says no asterisk would be required, noting that pro sports leagues have changed their playoff formats over the years.
"Do you really believe there should be an asterisk by the Seattle Seahawks because they won the Super Bowl under different conditions than the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I? I don't think so," Chuckas says.
On a recent teleconference hosted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, representatives of the three Triple Crown winners of the 1970s took the opposite view.
"It's not fine with me. I think it would invalidate all the records and all of the times. It would make it just an entirely different event," said Penny Chenery, owner of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
"If you change it, it's not the same. It doesn't count," said jockey Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed in 1978.
"It's such a special group of races and the timing is perfect, and a horse has to be up to it. It's super the way it is, and nobody should think of ever changing it under any circumstance," said Patrice Wolfson, owner of Affirmed.
Others are more accepting of the idea of changing the calendar, including Art Sherman, 77-year-old trainer for California Chrome.
Sherman says he'd prefer the Triple Crown be spread over nine weeks instead of five.
Isn't the five-week grind what makes it special?
"It makes it special, but it could be a little easier on the horse," Sherman says. "It's hard on the horse, it really is. It takes about 11 days for a horse to recover after a race. ... You're pushing the envelope pretty far."
Passing on the Preakness
Commanding Curve was second in the Derby, Wicked Strong was fourth and Samraat was fifth. All three bypassed the Preakness. They're back for the Belmont.
Steve Coburn, co-owner of California Chrome, said after the Preakness that if a Derby horse skips that race in Baltimore they should not be eligible for the Belmont. "There are trainers out there that train horses just to upset the apple cart," Coburn said. "They don't want a Triple Crown winner. They want a paycheck."
Gowan raced Ride On Curlin in the Derby (seventh) and the Preakness (second). He will try to beat California Chrome in the Belmont.
"I'm trying to win," he said. "But if I run second, I damn sure want Chrome to win just because I'd love to see a Triple Crown winner. I'm a racing fan, too."
During this year's Triple Crown series, Gowan has become friends with Sherman and his assistant trainer-son Alan Sherman. Gowan and Alan Sherman had dinner together Sunday at a New York City barbecue restaurant. "They're trying to beat me as bad as I'm trying to beat them, but we're still friends," Gowan said.
No matter how Saturday's race turns out, Gowan hopes the format doesn't change. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said.
Chuckas says it's time for a change. Does Gowan think that change is coming?
"If it (a Triple Crown by California Chrome) doesn't happen, they probably will," Gowan said. "But if Chrome wins it this year, they'll probably leave it there for a while."
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