We don't know what California Chrome's excuse was for losing Saturday's Belmont Stakes--and with it, the much-anticipated Triple Crown. There's a list, but the one that probably interests you is the injury that probably occurred in the split second when the starting gate opened.
Up to that point, it was all fairy tale, all the time.
But, oh, what a three weeks it was in New York, building up to the Belmont. California Chrome won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and seemed destined to outrun his modest pedigree. We liked his trainer, Art Sherman, and got to know his horseshoer, Californian Judd Fisher. We got used to seeing his groom, Rudy Rodriguez, in every frame of every video. And exercise rider Willie Delgado's red chaps in all-black New York? We'll take it.
When the horse moved to New York after the Preakness, he took over beautiful Belmont Park. When a possum crossed his path during training, he didn't flinch, but the encounter made the news and the possum soon had his own Twitter account.
Things were going so smoothly, it had to be too good to be true. Memories of Big Brown's quarter crack over a heel separation and I'll Have Another's vague soft tissue injury in the days before the Belmont were distant memories. This horse was sound and his shoes were on to stay.
Saturday, June 7th was a perfect late spring day and the undercard races at New York's Belmont Park featured many of the country's top fillies and older horses. Any of those races would have been the highlight of a fantastic day at the races, but the ultimate test was to come at 6 pm when California Chrome headed to the paddock. Shadows lengthened as 100,000 people cheered him through the tunnel under the grandstand. Out onto the track. Through the post parade. Toward the gate. Into the gate. No one was sitting down. Frank Sinatra, Jr. was singing "New York, New York" just like his father would have, but was anyone listening? All eyes were on a red horse.
And when the 2 hole gate sprang open, he sprang forward but bumped with the 3 horse, Matterhorn.
What's happening here? These photos were taken with Rob Carr's motor drive, and while the horses appear to be headed forward, there is certainly some energy exchange from the bump that would cause a deflecting sideward motion. Matterhorn's right front is in front of his left front, and in between is California Chrome's right front, although this shot does not seem to show direct contact at this split second.
Trainer Art Sherman noted that his horse had a superficial cut on the back of his leg that could have caused a tendon injury but it must have just been a glancing blow. Was it Matterhorn who struck the colt or was it his own hind leg, as he struggled to gain his balance and move forward?
California Chrome ran a creditable race. He finished in a dead heat for fourth with Wicked Strong (The two of them can be seen between the flying hooves of the first three horses, below.)
When the jockey asked the horse for his run, it didn't happen. That's all. Was he bothered by the gate bump? Could he feel the laceration on his heel bulb? Would a horse that didn't flinch at a possum cancel his ticket with immortality over a heel bulb cut?
We'll never know.
One of the first people back at the barn with California Chrome was horseshoer Judd Fisher, who wasn't too concerned about getting blood on his suit (above). Judd's photo has been syndicated around the world to outlets like CBS, CNN and even the South China News.
Judd's hybrid Thoro'bred "Sticky Shoes" with a rubberized liner have been nailed (not glued) on the colt since December. Saturday was the horse's first loss wearing the shoes. Amazingly, he didn't leave a shoe in the shadow of the starting gate during that tangle of legs and hooves.
In spite of what must be intense disappointment of not being able to say that he is the world's only living Triple Crown shoer, Judd said last night that his time in New York "was awesome". He admitted that the build up was intense. "Most horses never do what he did," he stressed, in the horse's defense.
He said that he enjoys working for Sherman Racing and that the horse was already back at home at Los Alamitos Race Track in Orange County, California.
Judd's shoes are still on the colt; he said he didn't think that any sort of support shoe would be needed in order for the heel bulb to heal. Judd suggested an Animalintex poultice be applied after the race on Saturday.
Trainer Art Sherman told The Blood-Horse yesterday that he plans to ship the horse to Harris Farms for a lay-up to recover. He also clarified that a quarter crack had not formed at the injury site.
(Above) The location of the laceration on the inside heel bulb is unusual; the outside heel is more often affected in gate collisions and overreach injuries; the inside is more commonly lacerated in diagonal interference injuries.
It's impossible to say how much or even if the injury affected the colt's willingness or ability to run his best race on Saturday.
Both Judd and California Chrome have returned to California. Chrome was greeted like the hero that he is, and deserves every cheer. So does Judd.
Thanks to Streeter Lecka, Al Bello and Rob Carr for taking such wonderful photos and making them available to The Hoof Blog. Thanks to everyone connected with Sherman Racing for making California Chrome make us believe in the champion that he is.
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