California Chrome won Saturday's Preakness Stakes with ease and now is only 1 1/2 miles away from becoming the first U.S. Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
As invincible as the modestly bred colt looked in the Kentucky Derby and again in the Preakness, history warns against presuming a victory in the third leg of the Triple Crown -- the June 7 Belmont Stakes.
Since Affirmed's triumph, 12 3-year-olds have come to Belmont Park with a chance at turning the trick and all have failed. That's one more than the total number of actual Triple Crown champions. Since Affirmed, only four Derby-Preakness winners have managed to finish second in the testing third leg of the series.
But for now, California Chrome carries the hopes of a sport and an industry eager for a star. He is undefeated and, really, unchallenged as a 3-year-old, reeling off five straight wins. His 1 3/4-lengths margin of victory in the Kentucky Derby was his closest call and he did not look threatened even in that race.
The Derby was 1 1/4 miles. The Preakness, 1 3/16 miles. In the Belmont, the son of Lucky Pulpit will have to go 1 1/2 miles -- a distance few American horses are asked to negotiate. How will California Chrome handle that?
"I hope okay," said jockey Victor Espinoza as he jogged California Chrome back to the Pimlico winner's circle. "You never know until they do it. But it seems like he'll be all right."
A final note of caution concerns the fragility of Thoroughbreds. Two years ago, I'll Have Another won the Derby and the Preakness and was poised for greatness, only to be scratched from the Belmont with a tendon injury. He never raced again and now stands at stud in Japan.