JOHN L. PITTS: Triple Crown not a sure bet

JOHN L. PITTS

JOHN L. PITTS

TUPELO

You’ve probably heard the story about California Chrome, who’ll try to win the Triple Crown in today’s Belmont Stakes.

You know, how a couple of guys got together and bought an $8,000 mare and paid a $2,500 stud fee and now own a horse worth millions after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Alan Porter, a consultant in the field of thoroughbred “pedigree research,” sees a more complicated tale.

Until late last year, Porter and his family were living in Rienzi, but they’ve since moved to Eugene, Ore. Looking for some inside perspective on the California Chrome phenomenon, I rang him up earlier this week.

As befits his time in Mississippi, Porter put the story in terms of football.

“What they did was sort of like the quarterback running the length of the field to score the winning touchdown,” said Porter, a partner in Pedigree Consultants LLC. “It might happen, but it’s not something you can draw up. And the next week, you can’t say, ‘Let’s run that play again for a touchdown,’ because it’s most likely not going to work.”

With his understanding of horse bloodlines, Porter looks at California Chrome and sees how the horse’s success makes sense.

Bottom line, they hit the genetic lottery.

“It may be that the mother (Love the Chase) was a better race mare than her record would indicate. She had breathing problems but really comes from a very, very productive female line.

“And the sire, Lucky Pulpit, was also the sire for Tapit, who now commands a $150,000 breeding fee.”

My horse knowledge pretty much begins and ends with Mr. Ed. But when you look back and see that one of California Chrome’s great-grandfathers – not the official term, but you get the idea – was 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and one of his great-great-grandfathers was the legendary Secretariat, it all starts to make a little more sense.

Yet Porter is skeptical that Chrome will win today. He knows plenty about the Belmont – he helped play matchmaker for the breeding of 2012 Belmont runner-up Paynter.

“I think it will be tough,” Porter said. “American horses do not want to run a mile and a half, so that’s beyond his optimum. There will be fresh horses in the field, and he’s ridden by a west coast jockey without much experience on that track. Chrome will be running his third race in five weeks, and trainers would never normally do that.”

But we’ll tune in to see for sure, because the lure of seeing the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 is just too great.

And to see if a horse that will be the public’s overwhelming favorite can, one more time, beat the zillion-to-one genetic odds that put him in that position to begin with.

John L. Pitts (john.pitts@journalinc.com) is sports editor of the Journal. He shares random thoughts on Twitter @JohnLPitts