California Chrome is a great horse but no Big Red

Well, California Chrome came up short. He is not the “tremendous machine” that Big Red was!

I am no horse racing fanatic but much of my lingering interest was first engendered by Big Red (Secretariat) and his exploits. Over the years my interest has declined but it was rekindled this year as the California Chrome “rags to riches” story has unfolded.

WaPoHis humble origins — born to an $8,000 mare, by a sire with a $2,000 stud fee — turned him into a cult figure and then a superstar following his wins in Louisville and Baltimore. But was he a “one-in-a-bazillion” champion, as co-owner Coburn called him this week? Or another Triple Crown pretender who lacked the stamina, sturdiness or stomach to win for the third time in five weeks against a pack of rivals?

Only 11 horses have ever won the Triple Crown. Big Red was the ninth winner after a gap of 25 years in 1973. Then Seattle Slew triumphed in 1977 and Affirmed won the Triple in 1978. And now it will be at least a gap of 37 years before there is another Triple Crown winner.  This year, California Chrome had won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and was attempting to be the 12th winner. He was the odds-on favourite, but yesterday he came up short and finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes.

Secretariat was special. When he died in 1989 his heart was found to be almost twice as large as “normal”. Big Red still holds the record for all the 3 races (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes). Maybe he was a freak. In any case, in forty odd years of trying, genetics and horse breeding “science” have failed to produce a horse to match.

Wiki: Secretariat’s genetic legacy may be linked in part to the likelihood that he carried the “x-factor” (a trait linked to a large heart, carried only on the X chromosome) and thus, a trait Secretariat could only pass on via his daughters. However, it is yet to be proven whether the x-factor increases athletic ability.

I listened to the running of the 1973 Belmont Stakes on radio (live telecasts across the Atlantic were not around). It was not an exciting race in itself because Big Red was never threatened. It was enormously exciting as the culmination of a season. It was awe-inspiring in the manner and margin of his winning. At the finish line he was 31 lengths ahead and still going away.

But nowadays with the magic of YouTube, his majestic run is universally available.



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