<![CDATA[NBC Connecticut - ]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/feature/triple-crown http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC_Connecticut.png NBC Connecticut http://www.nbcconnecticut.com en-us Tue, 21 Apr 2015 04:16:54 -0400 Tue, 21 Apr 2015 04:16:54 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Meet the Kentucky Derby's Top 10 Contenders]]> Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:35:23 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP234819879417.jpg

Step right up, American Pharoah. Final rehearsal's a few days away, and it's time to see whether you or your dance partner, Dortmund, will be the Kentucky Derby favorite.

Dortmund proved there's little doubt he's No. 1 again on the AP's latest Run to the Roses Top 10 Kentucky Derby list following a commanding 4 1/4 -length win in the Santa Anita Derby over the weekend. The imposing colt comes into the May 2 Derby with a 6 for 6 record, the same as Seattle Slew (1977) and Smarty Jones (2004) before their Derby wins.

American Pharoah, meanwhile, remains No. 3 and is all set for the Arkansas Derby following a six-furlong workout in 1:11.60 at his home base at Santa Anita Park on Sunday. He comes into the final major Derby prep with four wins in five starts, including a 6 1/4-length romp in the Rebel in the rain at Oaklawn Park.

Both 3-year-old colts are trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, who added a third Derby starter after One Lucky Dane ran second to Dortmund in the Santa Anita Derby.

Carpe Diem, trained by Todd Pletcher, retains the No. 2 spot after his impressive three-length win in the Blue Grass at Keeneland Race Course on Saturday. Sunland Derby winner Firing Line, who tested Dortmund twice before losing each time by a head, is No. 4.

Frosted soared into the rankings at No. 5 with a two-length win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday while El Kabeir ran third and dropped out. He's still Derby bound.

The owner of American Pharoah says his 2-year-old champion is the real deal and is looking for a comfortable win in Arkansas.

"We're hoping that he would win it easy, with not too much effort taken out of him," Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Stables, which also owns El Kabeir, said Tuesday. "We're totally high on this horse."

The Arkansas Derby carries Derby-qualifying points of 100-40-20-10, and is a last chance for several Derby hopefuls. Among them is Far Right, No. 8 this week, but with a borderline 22 qualifying points.

Louisiana Derby winner International Star leads with 171 points; Dortmund is second with 170; and Carpe Diem third with 164. Bolo, third in the Santa Anita Derby, is 20th with 30 points.

The other Derby prep is the Lexington Stakes, with points scaled down to 10-4-2-1.


Here's our Top 10:

1. Dortmund (Bob Baffert, trainer; Martin Garcia, jockey): Can't see how unbeaten colt is not Derby favorite after win in Santa Anita Derby. ... His 6 for 6 record matches marks of Seattle Slew and Smarty Jones before their Derby wins in 1977, 2004. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs (May 2). ... Final Derby future odds (pool 4): 6-1.

2. Carpe Diem (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Capped stellar Derby prep campaign with three-length win in Blue Grass at Keeneland. ... Comes into Derby with 4 for 5 mark, only loss a second-place finish in BC Juvenile. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 10-1.

3. American Pharoah (Baffert, Victor Espinoza): Expected heavy favorite for Arkansas Derby. ... 2-year-old champion romped in Rebel in 3-year-old debut. ... Worked 6 furlongs in 1:11.60 at Santa Anita on Sunday. ... Next start: Arkansas Derby (Saturday). ... Odds: 5-1.

4. Firing Line (Simon Callaghan, Gary Stevens): Finally, a workout for Sunland Derby winner (March 22). ... Went 4 furlongs in 48.00 at Santa Anita on April 3. ... Trainer says long layoff won't both horse. ... Two-time runner-up to Dortmund, losing both by a head. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 13-1.

5. Frosted (Kiaran McLaughlin, Joel Rosario): Finally struck Derby pay dirt with Wood Memorial win. ... Needed those 100 points to qualify for Run to the Roses. ... Hadn't won (0 for 3) since breaking maiden more than five months ago. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 40-1.

6. Materiality (Pletcher, Velazquez): Florida Derby winner heads to Churchill Downs with a 3 for 3 record. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 12-1.

7. International Star (Mike Maker, Miguel Mena): May not be among Derby favorites, but the resume is a good one: Swept Lecomte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 17-1.

8. Far Right (Ron Moquett, Mike Smith): With 22 points, horse needs to finish in money in Arkansas Derby to gain spot for Kentucky Derby. ... Comes into race with wins in Smarty Jones and Southwest. ... Next start: Arkansas Derby (Saturday). ... Odds: 39-1.

9. Mubtaahij (Mike De Kock, Christophe Soumillon): Biggest question is whether long trip from Dubai to Kentucky will affect UAE Derby winner. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 8-1.

10. Upstart (Rick Violette, Jr., Jose Ortiz): Remains in rankings despite runner-up finish in Florida Derby, and DQ to second after finishing first in Fountain of Youth. ... Next start: Kentucky Derby. ... Odds: 18-1.


Keep an eye on: Bolo, Danzig Moon, El Kabeir, Ocho Ocho Ocho, One Lucky Dane.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[The Road to the Triple Crown]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 12:04:16 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP103653958848.jpg Take a look at photos from the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and preparations for the Belmont Stakes, the last of the Triple Crown races.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Seven Ways to Fake Being a Racing Expert]]> Fri, 08 Aug 2014 16:09:53 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP233467296026.jpg

You're not a horse racing expert, but you can act like one for Saturday's historic Belmont Stakes.

All eyes, including many untrained ones, will be on California Chrome on Saturday as he tries to clinch the first Triple Crown victory in 36 years.

Don't know the first thing about horse racing? It doesn't matter. These seven tricks will help you get in on the spectacle as though you do.

1. Learn the lingo, and use it liberally.

You'll actually get to know something about racing later. For now, just pepper your comments with some jargon.

Before the race, check out race handicappers' predictions, check the tote board for the odds and watch the horses head from the paddock to their posts. Once the race begins, listen to the call, or the horses' running positions — but don't expect to have the foggiest idea what the caller is saying. (Don't worry, the race will only take a few minutes.)

A horse that's a closer runs his best later in a race, a stayer or router is good at running distances and a front-runner runs best at the head of the field. A horse is pinched back if it's held in close quarters, and if it's boxed in it's shut off or pocketed.

Horses' distances from each other in the stretch, or the last straight section of track, are measured by a head, e.g., the length of a horse's head. At the finish line, a photo finish is so close the finish-line camera has to figure out who won, and a dead heat is an exact tie. A horse finishes on the board if he's one of the first four to finish.

2. Know what's at stake, and tell everybody else.

You probably already know that only 11 horses have ever pulled off the feat of winning all three legs of the Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

You might also know that since 1978, 11 have won the the first two legs only to flame out at Belmont. Two years ago, I'll Have Another won the first two legs only to scratch before making it onto track there.

There's a good reason the Belmont Stakes is called the "Test of the Champion." It's tough — very tough. Few competing horses have ever run its 1.5-mile length before, which can make the race hard to handicap, and yield some upsets.

So can rallies by great horses who got pocketed or pinched back in the Derby's more crowded field.

So can rallies by horses that ran in Louisville, then skipped out on the Preakness, giving them a crucial few weeks of rest before the Belmont. Any horse hoping for Triple Crown history must face some better-rested rivals, a fact with which California Chrome's co-owner Steve Coburn is none too pleased.

And plenty of would-be Triple Crown winners have had their hopes dashed by jockey error at Belmont, where jockeys' tactics play a bigger role. California Chrome's 42-year-old jockey Victor Espinoza and thousands of eager fans will hope he avoids the common mistake of moving too soon, or accelerating too early in the race.

3. Handicap the race yourself. (Remember that term?)

You can't feign some authority on horse racing without concocting a fervently held opinion on who will win at Belmont.

California Chrome is the Belmont-bound favorite. But among the handful of horses that could prove his top contenders for Belmont victory, experts say, are Wicked Strong, Commanding Curve, Ride on Curlin and Tonalist.

Wicked Strong was one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby and finished fourth. As a New York-based horse, he has a home-track advantage — plus, as the Washington Post's Andrew Beyer notes, his lineage is filled with strong distance runners, which could boost his Belmont chances. He's also got the benefit of having skipped the Preakness.

Same goes for Commanding Curve, who will head to Belmont similarly refreshed. He finished second in the Derby after an incredible rally, something analyst and retired jockey Richard Migliore says could boost his Belmont chances.

Ride on Curlin also turned in strong finishes at the Derby as well as at the Preakness, where he came in second. Tonalist hasn’t competed in any of the Triple Crown races, but Migliore says his distance-oriented breeding has made him "the horse that everyone should fear."

4. Bet on it.

Nothing screams "I know what I'm doing!" like advising your friends on how to spend their money, right? Right — well, as long as your friends aren't big gamblers. In that case, pay close attention.

Use Colin Bertram's primer to get a handle on what horses' odds mean and what they don't. Remember, a horse's odds reflect not how likely it is to win but how heavily other people are betting or expected to bet on it to win.

Once you've picked your favorites from the field of Belmont contenders and decided what kind of bet you want to make, examine the morning-line odds, which predict what people will probably bet on each horse. (The odds will change once betting actually has begun.)

The first number tells you how much profit your bet will get you should you win, and the second tells you how much you must bet to get it. California Chrome's 3-5 odds at the time of writing mean you have to bet $5 in order to win $3 profit, so if you bet $10 and California Chrome won, you'd get back $16.

5. Trot down Memory Lane.

Recall those halcyon days of horse racing — you know, when the only other sports worth their salt were baseball and boxing, and when your parents hadn't even met yet.

The mechanics of horse racing have changed plenty over the decades. Wealthy dynastic families ruled breeding, not commercial breeders, and as a result, horses were bred for stamina. Today, they're bred for speed.

But most fundamentally, horse racing doesn't have nearly the fan base it did in its heyday, back before pro football, pro basketball, casinos and, well, the internet horned in on its popularity. At racing's zenith, the track was the automatic mecca for gamblers.

6. Honor the greats.

Now you get to the really fun part of exercising your newfound authority: Breathlessly regaling your friends with tales of great races of yore as though you were there.

Bloviate about Secretariat's astounding 1973 Triple Crown, which he won by an unheard-of margin of 31 lengths. As the victor crossed the finish, the runner-up couldn't even fit on the television screen.

Wonder what would have happened if Man o' War, ranked the 20th century's best by Blood-Horse magazine and The Associated Press, had ever run for the Triple Crown. It wasn't around yet when Man o' War raced in the early 20th century, though he did sire some Triple Crown horses.

Reminisce about Kelso, who ran in the early '60s until he was 9 years old. Now all the Belmont contenders are 3-year-olds, and most horses are retired soon after that age to stud duty, which is far more lucrative than racing. (That was impossible for Kelso, who was a gelding, or castrated horse.)

Wax poetic about legendary filly Ruffian — even Secretariat's trainer said she might be better than his most famous horse — whose career was cut tragically short by a broken leg at Belmont in 1975. (You can still pay your respects at her grave at Belmont.)

7. Get ambitious.

If you really want to boost your expert cred, do your homework, and stake out a controversial stance or two. Read up, and weigh in, on hot-button topics like horse breeding habits, nasal strips and the sport's undeniable decline in recent decades — and what could reverse it.

California Chrome's own co-owner Steve Coburn, for one, has grumbled that the growing numbers of Derby contenders that sit out the Preakness before returning for the Belmont have made Triple Crown wins all but impossible, and he wants the rules tweaked so that only colts that run the Preakness can compete at Belmont.

"I honestly believe that if the Triple Crown is not won this year by California Chrome, I will never see it in my lifetime, because there are people out there trying to upset the apple cart," he said. "They don't want a Triple Crown winner. They want a paycheck."

Indeed, the decades-long Triple Crown drought, and the sport's waning popularity, have encouraged talk of tinkering with the format and timing of the three key races, and not just among figures who have, quite literally, a horse in the race. Weigh in on what you think should be done, too.

But don't limit your expressions of your newfound expertise to such existential hand-wringing.

Try picking an underdog to root for Saturday, deeming California Chrome overrated. When you place your bet, try a superfecta, naming the top four horses in the order you expect them to place.

And whatever other stories you tell your friends, make sure to leave room for one still in the making: the first time you bluffed your way through Belmont.

Just wait until next year to tell it. By then, you might actually be an expert.


This story has been updated from an earlier version.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[A Bettor's Guide to the Belmont Stakes]]> Sat, 07 Jun 2014 00:31:51 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-AP979793179228_3.jpg

California Chrome's rags-to-riches quest to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years Saturday at the Belmont Stakes is giving more and more Americans racing fever, and the itch to put down a wager.

For all you inexperienced bettors out there, here's a quick guide to betting on the Belmont that'll have you sounding like a serious handicapper by the time California Chrome approaches the starting gate.


Odds-on many racing newcomers may not know what the odds actually mean. Whenever there are two numbers (e.g., 3:5 for California Chrome at time of writing) displayed on a tote board at a racetrack or on a list of wager options, the first number (3) denotes the minimum amount of profit the wager will pay. The second number (5) is the amount you need to wager to win the first amount.

Once the final finishing places of a race are official, the track will post the prices of the winning wagers. In the above example, the horse will pay $3. The track will then add the $3 profit and the $5 wager together to derive the payout: $3 + $5 = $8.

If a horse is quoted with only a single digit, it is implied that the missing second number is a 1. In other words, a 7 on the tote board means 7:1. So if you made a $2 wager, a bet on a horse with 7:1 odds would pay $16. That's because 7:1 is the same as 14:2, so $14 + $2 = $16. (In betting on horse races, payouts are generally based on a $2 wager.)

Now that the odds makes sense, it’s time to decide the type of wager you want to make. Here are some of the most popular bets:

Win Your horse must finish first to collect.

Place Your horse must finish first or second to collect.

Show Your horse must finish first, second or third to collect.

Exacta You play two horses, and they must come in first and second in the exact order specified in order to collect.

Exacta Box You play two horses, as above, but here they must come in first and second in either order to collect.

Trifecta You play three horses, and to win, they must come in first, second and third in exact order to collect.

Trifecta Box You play three horses, and they must finish first, second and third in any order to collect.

Superfecta You play four horses, and they must come in first, second, third and fourth in exact order.

Superfecta Box You play four horses, and to win they must finish first, second, third and fourth in any order.



But novice bettors need to take into account more than just the odds for the Belmont Stakes. To further boost your chances of making a winning bet this Saturday, you should also consider the following, according to the Belmont Stakes:

Distance: The Belmont Stakes is run over a distance of a mile and a half. Few three-year-old colts will have had prior experience in such a long race. Some horses are bred for distance and are usually better candidates than one without a lineage of success at long races that place a premium on endurance.

Schedule: The grueling schedule of the three Triple Crown races is one of the most significant reasons that it's so rare for a horse to win the Triple Crown. While the ideal layoff between races varies from horse to horse, most high-level equine competitors race fewer than 10 times per year. In most cases, thoroughbreds seldom race without breaks of three weeks to a month. Triple Crown aspirants, however, must win three very competitive races — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes — in just a five-week span. Many horses sit out one or both of the first two races to rest, unless they’re in contention for the Triple Crown. It’s worth giving special consideration to rested horses at Belmont.

Weather/Track Condition If there is a chance for bad weather and/or an off track, it’s essential to consider that when handicapping the race. To measure a horse’s ability in this type of race, take a quick look at his past performances, and see if he has any experience on a muddy or sloppy track.

Coverage of the Belmont Stakes will air live Saturday starting at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[2014 Belmont Stakes: 10 Things to Know]]> Fri, 06 Jun 2014 12:29:26 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/494615487.jpg

California Chrome’s quest to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 36 years has energized the sport and is sure to draw millions of viewers who have been inspired by the colt’s humble beginnings.

In the years since the last Triple Crown winner, the 12 horses that won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, stammered before they reached the finish line or even the starting gate at New York’s Belmont Park.

As California Chrome tries to make history on June 7 at the Belmont Stakes, a high-powered field will try to dash his chance at the crown. According to Richard Migliore, a retired jockey who’s an analyst for the New York Racing Association, the 146th Belmont Stakes could be “the greatest day for horse racing in North America” if California Chrome captures the crown. It could also set the stage for a first-ever Triple Crown-winner to compete in the Breeder's Cup this fall.

“We have a horse that can win the Triple Crown,” said Migliore. “If you think about it in this context: every year there’s a Stanley Cup winner, every year there’s a Super Bowl championship winner, but the Triple Crown win happens only once in a while. It’s exciting even if you’re a casual fan to witness history. Within our industry, this is one of the classic races that everyone aspires to compete in. The purse is huge too. You can put all of that together and it’s a special event.”

Here are ten things to know about the Belmont Stakes

Belmont Stakes is the oldest and the most grueling of the Triple Crown races:

The mile-and-a-half Belmont Park is the world’s largest dirt track making it the most taxing of the Triple Crown races. It demands more stamina than the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby or the 1 3/6-mile Preakness Stakes that come before it. The distance is a main reason why so few horses manage to win all three races.

“Its immense size can trick jockeys into launching premature moves,” said NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss. “On conventional one-mile ovals, riders will typically ask mounts for maximum effort somewhere around the midway point of the final turn – but at that stage of the Belmont Stakes, the finish is still a full half-mile away and the jockeys must remain patient.”

Migliore pointed out that previous experience racing at Belmont Park– something California Chrome has not done – is a big advantage.

“Out of the 11 Triple Crown winners, all competed at Belmont Park before the final Triple Crown race,” Migliore said. Obviously California Chrome needs to win, but he never ran at Belmont before.”

Top Belmont contenders:

Ten to eleven horses will run in this year’s Belmont Stakes (the entry deadline is 72 hours before the race) and experts say that four horses have emerged as California Chrome’s top opponents: Wicked Strong, Tonalist, Commanding Curve and Ride on Curlin.

Tonalist is a new horse and he hasn’t competed in any of the Triple Crown races, according to Migliore who has observed the contenders at Belmont Park. “He’s the horse that everyone should fear because he’s bread to get a mile and half, he has a body type to get a mile and a half.”

Wicked Strong, said Moss, was one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby and came in fourth. He is a New York-based horse that has a home-track advantage.

Commanding Curve, meanwhile, was a runner up in the Derby and his strong finish showed that “the mile and a half should give him an even better chance” at winning the Belmont, according to Migliore.

Ride on Curlin came in second in the Preakness and is also considered a threat, Moss said.

California Chrome’s strengths:

California Chrome has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown because he is adaptable and maneuverable and is capable of developing speed really fast. Jockey Victor Espinoza rides the colt as if he was driving a race car, Moss said, and he can tell the horse when to accelerate and when he should settle back down.

“When he’s ready to make the final push to the wire, he’s got this huge burst of acceleration and he just opens up away from the competition,” Moss said, adding that his burst of speed “demoralizes the competition, usually at or nearing the top of the stretch.”

Another of California Chrome’s strengths is that he is willing to do what the jockey is asking him to do. “You can’t say that about all race horses, they can get pretty opinionated,” Moss said. “But California Chrome has acquiesced to what Victor Espinoza wants him to do even if he wanted to do something else.”

California Chrome's Achilles’ heel?

The California-bred colt is coming off a six-race winning streak, but he has several weaknesses that could impede his historic run. The colt doesn’t like when dirt gets in his face. Several times in his early career, he ended up behind horses with kickback hitting his face, and “he very demonstrably hated it,” said Moss.

“The last two times California Chrome had to deal with dirt in his face, he finished 6th in both races – his last two defeats," Moss explained. It’s part of the reason why Espinoza makes such obvious effort to “steer California Chrome as quickly as possible to the outside, and away from the flying dirt,” Moss added.

Chrome has also been known to have started slowly out of the gate in several races in his career because he rocks forward and back, “his head cocked far to the left instead of looking straight ahead,” Moss said. “Even so, in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, he sprang from the gate like a cheetah.”

"Fresh” horses:

Many horses that have ran in the Kentucky Derby, skip the Preakness Stakes and get extra rest before the Belmont Stakes. According to Moss, only one of the last 12 Belmont winners ran in both the Derby and Preakness. Of the challengers to California Chrome in this year’s Belmont, all but one, Ride on Curlin, have the advantage of a less-demanding racing schedule, Moss said. For several horses, like Tonalist, Belmont Stakes is the first race of the Triple Crown.

Past Triple Crown winners:

Patrice Wolfson who owned the most recent Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, with her late husband Louis and 92-year-old Penny Chenery, who owned 1973 champion Secretariat, are both planning to attend Belmont Stakes, according to The Associated Press.

"If this horse can win the Triple Crown, I want to be there," Chenery told the AP about California Chrome.

The jockeys who rode atop the last three Triple Crown winners will be watching the race from the stands, too: Steve Cauthen (Affirmed), Jean Cruget (Seattle Slew) and Ron Turcotte (Secretariat).

Victor Espinoza's second chance:

Victor Espinoza fell one race short of the Triple Crown 12 years ago, but he now has a chance at redemption aboard California Chrome. Espinoza, 42, was riding on War Emblem at the 2002 Belmont Stakes but his horse stumbled to his knees at the start and never made up for lost time.

"In a million years I didn't think I was going to have a second chance," Espinoza told The Associated Press. "I was very close once. Life goes on. But after a decade, here we go. I'm here again."

Other Belmont races on June 7?

In addition to $1.5 million Belmont Stakes there will be other nationally-prominent races, featuring many of the country’s best racehorses: $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap, $1 million Manhattan Stakes, $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes, $750,000 Acorn Stakes and $750,000 Just a Game Stakes. A total of 10 stakes races will be run on Belmont day, worth a total of $7.7 million in purse value.

Will the weather cooperate?

Rain before or during the race will not only put a damper on the festivities at Belmont Park, it can potentially ruin California Chrome's chances.

“He’s never ran a race on anything rather than a dry racing surface,” Moss said. “A lot of these horses have experience with a wet racetrack but California Chrome has never had to run on a muddy racetrack.”

Are there any other races after Belmont?

The three-year-old horses competing in the Triple Crown don't simply retire. Trainers normally give horses some rest and then they might race them in Saratoga or in the Breeder's Cup in the fall, Moss said. There are also plenty of horse racing events after horses turn four and older. Palace Malice, which won the Belmont last year, is running in this year's Metropolitan Handicap.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Chrome's Jockey "Super Ready" for Belmont Race]]> Sat, 07 Jun 2014 13:36:58 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/edt-AP520478017993_0.jpg California Chrome is 1 1/2 miles away from ending the longest drought in racing history — 36 years without a Triple Crown winner. Bruce Beck reports.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Victory and Defeat: Triple Crown Attempts]]> Sun, 08 Jun 2014 09:15:33 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/450243204.jpg See all the emotional reaction from past Triple Crown attempts, both the wins and the losses.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hall of Fame Horse Trainer Shares Triple Crown Insight]]> Fri, 06 Jun 2014 07:57:45 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/horses-grand-prairie.jpg As California Chrome approaches the race that could give him a Triple Crown win, a North Texas trainer shares his feedback on what could happen on Saturday. Jack Van Berg almost had his Triple Crown win back in 1987 with one of his horses named Alysheba. They won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but failed to dominate the Belmont Stakes. He said it doesn't matter how prepared you and your horse could be, luck has to be on your side in order to win.

Photo Credit: Christine Lee, NBC 5 Grand Prairie Reporter]]>
<![CDATA[California Chrome's Golden Moment]]> Fri, 06 Jun 2014 12:30:21 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP886560060665.jpg

Long before California Chrome set his white foot in Elmont, New York, to prepare for the Belmont Stakes, the chestnut colt spent his early years training in California, where a shot at the Triple Crown seemed like a distant dream.

But now, California Chrome is the Triple Crown front-runner, and his six-race winning streak is boosting his home state’s reputation for breeding champions.

“It provides so much more enthusiasm and optimism right now,” said Doug Burge, president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. “People are looking at this horse and saying ‘We can do that.’”

Few California-bred horses can stake a claim to winning any one of the Triple Crown races – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. That’s because only eight percent of the national foal crop comes from California, Burge said. That’s about 1,800 foals born in California every year compared to Kentucky’s 20,000. While Kentucky breeds horses that race internationally, most of California’s horses run in local races.

Only four “Cal-bred” horses -- Chrome included -- can boast a Derby win, and so far no California horse has won the Triple Crown. This means California Chrome’s recent victories and his owners’ deep roots in the state are giving local fans and breeders a lot to cheer for.

“All they have done over the years is dream of a horse like this,” said Steve Haskin, senior correspondent at The Blood-Horse magazine.

California Chrome’s upbringing is a story steeped in California’s horse racing landscape. It started in Central California's San Joaquin Valley, where he was foaled in the horse-breeding division of Harris Ranch, the state’s largest beef producer. Chrome’s father Lucky Pulpit and two sisters are still there.

His mother Love the Chase was a rather unfortunate racing filly purchased by Steve Coburn, a portly man who appears in a cowboy hat in just about every photo op, and Perry Martin, who owns Martin Testing Laboratories in Sacramento. They each bought five percent of Love the Chase and watched her lose most of the six races she ran.

But the two fell in love with her anyway and purchased her outright for a paltry sum of $8,000, a transaction that prompted someone to say that only a fool would buy Love the Chase. Coburn and Martin formed a company and aptly named it Dumb Ass Partners, or DAP.

“It’s a fairytale-type story that comes from modest pedigrees,” Burge said.

DAP retired Love the Chase in 2009 and bred her with the equally unimpressive Lucky Pulpit, and together they sired California Chrome, who was born in 2011 with four white stockings and a white stripe down his face, features that horse aficionados call “chrome.”

DAP enlisted the help of trainer Art Sherman, whose working-class family has been training horses in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, most of which were spent at Bay Meadows Racetrack and Golden Gate Fields.

Chrome’s blue-collar connections amid a playing field of horses with blue-blooded owners has prompted the media to dub the thoroughbred “the people’s horse.”

“The media has latched on to him and his story,” Haskin said. “His owners are working people and not business tycoons and millionaires.”

But Haskin said that California Chrome is every bit as well-bred as any Kentucky horse. “Don’t confuse humble beginnings with pedigree,” he said.

The colt’s record is proof to naysayers that DAP has a winner on their hands. As a 2-year-old, California Chrome raced in Los Angeles' Hollywood Park, San Diego's Del Mar Racetrack and Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, where he won some races and finished sixth in others.

But then the Chrome team switched jockeys to Victor Espinoza, who has been competing on California’s racetracks since 1993 and previously won the Kentucky Derby in 2002 riding on War Emblem.

The two have been unstoppable together with a six-race winning streak, including the Golden State Juvenile Stakes, California Cup Derby, the San Felipe Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby.

The pair then dazzled fans at this month's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Chrome has raked in over $3.4 million in earnings.

It’s a Cinderella story that has “captured people’s imaginations,” Burge said. And California Chrome’s ascent has been a boon for the state’s $34 billion horse racing industry, he added.

“What we’ve seen this year is better stallions retiring in California rather than going elsewhere,” he said. This trend provides a better stock of horses for breeders.

Chrome’s story has also been good for the horse racing industry as a whole, Haskin said.

“With all the negatives that racing has had in the past few years, everything about California Chrome’s story is positive,” he said. “And he’s got that white stripe and chestnut color that makes people remember the horse from their childhood.”

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Triple Crown Killers: Top Belmont Stakes Contenders]]> Sat, 31 May 2014 12:32:04 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/CA-chrome-thumb.jpg Take a look at the horses that have the potential to beat Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome. These strong competitors will face off in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 7 at Belmont Park.

<![CDATA[Calif. Man Could Win $1M if Chrome Wins ]]> Thu, 29 May 2014 14:41:47 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP388903179857.jpg

Eddie Espinoza will be cheering a little louder than anyone else for California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes.

If the colt becomes the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown in 36 years, Espinoza will win $1 million.

The 71-year-old racing fan from Whittier, California is in line for the big payout as part of a contest staged by Santa Anita. Espinoza was randomly selected on April 5 to participate. That day he placed a $5,000 win bet — funded by the track — on California Chrome, who won the Santa Anita Derby. Espinoza collected $8,000: the initial wager plus the payout.

On May 3, Espinoza bet $7,500, again paid for by the track, on California Chrome to win the Kentucky Derby. The colt did and Espinoza earned $26,000.

He used $10,000 provided by Santa Anita to wager on the Preakness, which Espinoza and his wife attended as part of the contest. California Chrome won again, allowing Espinoza to cash for $15,000, earning a total of $49,000 on the three races.

Espinoza plans to watch the Belmont on June 7 at Santa Anita.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA["He's Ready": Chrome Sets Up for Triple Crown]]> Wed, 21 May 2014 08:24:48 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP795294860879.jpg

Three-year-old California Chrome, known for his quirky smiles during bath time and his insistence to only back himself out of trailer vans, is also known in the horse racing circuit as a "freak of nature."

That's how trainer Bob Baffert referred to the Kentucky Derby winner following his next win at Pimlico in the Preakness Stakes. The thrilling races have primed the California colt for a shot at capturing horse-racing's elusive Triple Crown.

Baffert knows a thing or two or three about being a contender for the Triple Crown — he's trained three horses that came close to the sport's prestigious honor. But this time, he says he sees something different in California Chrome.

"There's something about this horse," he said. "I think he's going to do it."

Behind the reigns of California Chrome is 42-year-old jockey Victor Espinoza. The former bus driver in Mexico City has also been close to the Triple Crown before.

He rode Baffert-trained War Emblem in 2002 to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, only to nearly collapse right out of the gate at Belmont.

"He had a bad break," Baffert said. "He stumbled leaving the gate so it took him completely out of it."

But this time, it's a whole new horse and a whole new rhythm for Espinoza.

Coming off the Preakness, Espinoza said it was the hardest race he's run in his entire 25-year career.

"The number three... I really didn't like that post at three," he said, referring to Chrome's position at Pimlico Saturday. "For California Chrome, I would've liked better to be on the outside, but when I saw the three and all the speed that was outside of me, it was very tough."

Espinoza is credited with controlling the horse into a weaving route to get to the outside.

"I didn't want to burn him early, but I also wanted to let him run when it was time to go," he said, adding that the mental stress far outweighed his physical stress.

"I was just waiting for that moment to just turn the reins loose and let it go," Espinoza said. "I have confidence in California Chrome. When I turn him loose, he drops to the ground and he opens up."

And California Chrome did just that, winning the Preakness Saturday and setting the stage for a historic run in three weeks in New York.

"Soon as I get on California Chrome, I drop the reins," Espinoza said. "He's smart, he likes to play with the pony and I let him do whatever he wants. As long as he don't drop me, it's fine with me!"

Espinoza said the connection he has with California Chrome is a strong one, the horse appearing to be playful prior to reaching the starting gates, where Espinoza said he reminds him who's in charge.

"As we walk to the gate, I let him know who's in control. I tell him, 'It's time to go, time to perform, time to work,' and 'Hi, I'm the boss.'"

The Belmont Stakes is set for June 7 in New York. If California Chrome wins, he would be the first to win the coveted and elusive title since Affirmed in 1978. It could also set the stage for a first-ever Triple Crown-winner to run in the Breeder's Cup set to take place at Santa Anita Park in the fall.

"I hope he can do it," Espinoza said. "If he can do it and he's ready, I'm ready for it."

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[California Chrome Cleared to Wear Nasal Strip at Belmont ]]> Mon, 19 May 2014 14:10:25 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/california-chrome-preakness-AP626686475057_3.jpg

California Chrome will be allowed to wear a nasal strip when the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes competes in the third leg of the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes next month.

Stewards for the New York State Racing Association approved Monday the use of a nasal strip for California Chrome, NBC Sports reported. 

Trainer Art Sherman suggested earlier that California Chrome might forgo a chance at the Triple Crown if officials would not allow the strip at Belmont. He said it helps the colt breathe.

California Chrome will attempt to be the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

The 146th Belmont Stakes will take place on June 7 and will be broadcast live on NBC and streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[2014 Kentucky Derby Fashion]]> Mon, 05 May 2014 06:55:29 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/488006337.jpg See the stunning, shocking and sensational looks at the 140th Run for the Roses.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[All Bets Are Off When Ben Aaron Arrives at Aqueduct Racetrack]]> Fri, 02 May 2014 16:26:08 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/214*120/1LK-3238-BENRACES.jpg And, he's off! "New York Live's" very own Ben Aaron took a ride out to Aqueduct Racetrack to see just how this whole horse racing thing works, and which horse is worth a $12 bet!]]> <![CDATA[Get The Perfect Triple Crown Look at The Races]]> Fri, 02 May 2014 15:17:56 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/1LK-3238-FATR.jpg Audrina models the latest fashion trends to wear to all the races with a little help from "Fashion at The Races" and glams up for a photo shoot at Keeneland Racetrack. Don't miss the full episode of "1st Look" Saturday after "SNL" on NBC.]]> <![CDATA[Latin American Jockeys Dominate Kentucky Derby]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 12:04:17 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/joel_rosario.jpg

Fans from around the United States will be cheering when John Velazquez rides in the Kentucky Derby this weekend, but his biggest fans—his relatives—will be nearly 2,000 miles away.

“It feels great to come to another country, and I’m blessed enough to ride here,” said Velazquez, 42. “I feel blessed to help my family back in Puerto Rico.”

He's not alone when it comes to a distant fan base - more than half of the jockeys in Saturday's Kentucky Derby are Latino. (Watch the race Saturday on NBC - coverage begins at 4p ET.)

And they're not just racing, they're winning. Latin American immigrants have dominated the sport in recent years: Venezuela native Javier Castellano set the single season earnings record ($25.64 million) last year; Latin Americans filled the top six spots on the list of jockeys with the most wins in 2012; and seven Latinos are on the top earning jockey list for 2014, according to racing information website Equibase.

The last 3 winners of the Kentucky Derby were from Latin America—Joel Rosario from the Dominican Republic (2013), Mario Gutierrez from Mexico (2012) and John Velasquez from Puerto Rico (2011).

Velazquez, the top earning thoroughbred jockey of all time ($301.6 million), has been a star jockey for the past 15 years, raising the prominence of his ethnicity in the sport, but he said he is not the leader. The trend of major Latino successes began more than 50 years ago, with major Kentucky Derby wins by Ismael "Milo" Valenzuela, who grew up in Mexico, and Braulio Baeza, from Panama.

“They were the ones who opened up the doors for Latin American riders,” Velazquez said. “It was a welcome for us to come for this great opportunity.”

Velazquez said a number of Latino wins in the 1960s started a cycle of victories, leading to the Latino prominence in American racing today. Those early triumphs by Baeza and others spurred an interest about immigrant riders, and more jockey schools were opened in Latin America, which produced a new generation of highly-skilled riders.

One of the up-and-coming competitors, 22-year-old Ricardo Santana Jr., from Panama, followed in his father’s footsteps to become a jockey.

"My whole family is in Panama and since my dad is paralyzed, they always take him to the track to see my races," Santana said. "I'm here in U.S. with no family. My agent is like my family here. But I talk to my dad and mom everyday. In panama, they always watch all the jockeys from Panama and our races."

Santana attended the Laffit Pincay, Jr Vocational Jockey School in Panama, where fellow Derby contender Luis Saez was his classmate, he said.

Terry Meyocks, national manager for Jockeys Guild trade association in Lexington, Ky., recognizes the importance of the schools, but said there’s another reason for this trend.

“They’re smaller built [in Latin America],” said Meyocks, whose son-in-law, Javier Castellano, from Venezuela, was the No. 1 winning Jockey in U.S. thoroughbred horse racing last year, according to Equibase.

Every race has specific regulations, including the maximum weight a horse can safely hold—for this year's Kentucy Derby it is 126 pounds, according to a Kentucky Derby Museum official. That regulation weight includes all equipment, so the jockey must weight less than approximately 110 pounds, he said.

The museum official said jockeys of all heights and builds can enter the Derby, as long as they meet the weight requirement.

“They got to be an outstanding athlete,” to be successful in the Derby, Meyocks said. “They got to be patient and [have] a lot of experience and have the right contacts.”

Velazquez began his training at a jockey school in Puerto Rico at 16. He raced for two months there after graduating; then he moved to New York to continue his career.

For foreign riders, there are differences between the tracks at home and those in the U.S., Velazquez said, but tracks around this country are all unique as well. So Latin American riders need to be flexible, but so should all jockeys, he said.

“Track by track, you need to adjust everywhere you go,” Velazquez said. “There is a little grass and synthetic changes everywhere you go.”

Velazquez, a father of two, is scheduled to ride Intense Holiday in the Derby on Saturday, he said. More than half of the jockeys scheduled to ride in the Derby are Latino immigrants—three from Mexico, three from Puerto Rico, two from Panama, one from the Dominican Republic and one from Venezuela, according to the Derby website.

Mexico’s Victor Espinoza will ride the number one ranked horse, California Chrome, the site says. With some of the best jockeys in the sport coming from various Spanish-speaking nations, Velazquez says their Latin American roots keep them linked.

“We all come from different countries but we all feel very connected,” Velazquez said. “We are very competitive nations naturally.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>