Belmont Stakes: California Chrome, Commanding Curve And The Question Of Pedigree

By Michael Peckerar
Getty Images
Getty Images

As 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, California Chrome sits poised to make a historic run at the first Triple Crown since 1978 at the Belmont Stakes. However, questions are swirling.

There are a couple of things going in California Chrome’s favor, as well as some new issues to face. One of the biggest tools in California Chrome’s arsenal is his amazing late break. As seen in both the Derby and the Preakness, he is able to come around a third turn with plenty of gas in the tank. Both wins came from jockey Victor Espinoza holding the reins until the last turn up, and putting his horse to full throttle. This is a rare thing and has a perfect explanation.

California Chrome might have been a bargain horse, but his pedigree on the sire’s side is insane. His sire, Lucky Pulpit was grandsired by the legendary A.P. Indy. Obviously this gives him a lineage tracing to A.P. Indy’s sire, Seattle Slew. That’s not the most interesting part. A.P. Indy’s dam was Weekend Surprise, who was sired by the greatest of them all, Secretariat.

A lot of horses trace to Secretariat, which hasn’t really amounted to a hill of beans — unless they trace via a dam or damsire. Secretariat’s “x-factor” gene, giving him the larger, stronger heart allowing for longer and faster breaks, is carried on the X chromosome. This means none of his sires have that skill or stamina. However, a filly born of Secretariat does carry this gene. This genetic quirk is what allowed Ride On Curlin to come out of nowhere and Place in the Preakness.

This odd pedigree works in California Chrome’s favor and can work to his detriment. The one horse who challenged California Chrome in the final few hundred yards of the Derby was Commanding Curve. This horse’s dam was Mother, who was sired by Lion Hearted. Go ahead and guess where Lion Hearted traces his lineage back to (hint: it’s Secretariat).

The plot thickens, as Commanding Curve was sired by Master Command, making his grandsire A.P. Indy. Do some 10th grade bio and we can see that Commanding Curve could cancel out any genetic advantage held by California Chrome.

In all honesty, anyone who bets purely on pedigree is a fool. Wins come down to quality training, and California Chrome has exactly that. Trainer Art Sherman has proven himself to know his horse and jockey better than anyone else, and has taken a horse nobody thought much of and turned him into one of the most impressive late-breakers in the history of thoroughbred racing.

The Belmont is not the Derby or the Preakness, however. The insane distance of Belmont Park is the reason why the Triple Crown is so difficult an achievement. California Chrome has proven that he has the break on the medium to shorter tracks like Pimlico and Santa Anita. What should put fright into Sherman’s heart was the closing velocity that Commanding Curve was maintaining in the home stretch at Churchill Downs.

While California Chrome taking a Triple Crown win would be great history and make a fantastic biopic, Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong have the pedigree to play spoiler and postpone history for another year.

Michael Peckerar is a Columnist for Follow him on Twitter @peckrants, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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