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Commentary: 'America's horse' a true Triple threat

On a gorgeous day, a record crowd of 123,469 watched California Chrome get a step away from The Triple Crown at the Preakness.

It was a great afternoon. A day after monsoon-like conditions wreaked havoc on the racetrack, fans hoped that they had seen part of history.

Twelve times since 1978 a horse has won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

The latest is California Chrome, who won on Saturday at Pimlico.

"You have to have a very good horse to win these three races, and I'm hoping I've got one right now," California Chrome's trainer Art Sherman said.

The 77-year-old Sherman has been in horse racing for 60 years, and only now is he being discovered.

"I've never won at million dollar races," Sherman said. "Now I'm up there with all the big boys."

Sherman said he'd keep his horse at Pimlico for now.

"I think he'll probably have a couple of days here to unwind and just be a horse," Sherman said.

California Chrome held off Ride On Curlin, who finished seventh in the Derby.

Commanding Curve, Danza and Wicked Strong, second, third and fourth in Derby could be challengers at the Belmont three weeks from now. Ride On Curlin and Social Inclusion, who finished third would also like another crack at California Chrome.

Earlier in the day, Tom Chuckas, the President and Chief Operating Officer of the Maryland Jockey Club reveled in the record crowd, but called for a change in the racing calendar.

Just like pitchers work with more rest these days, so do thoroughbred horses. Chuckas thinks it would be better for business to have a Triple Crown winner more than, say every 36 years.

Instead of running the Preakness two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, he'd like to hold it the first Saturday in June and have the Belmont four weeks later.

"I'm not anti-tradition. I have great respect for tradition, but the game has changed," Chuckas said.

"We owe it to our fans to put the best product on the table," Chuckas continued. "If we don't ... we're in trouble."

Chuckas has yet to discuss his idea with those at Churchill Downs, home of the Derby or the New York Racing Association, which runs the Belmont.

"The traditionalists will say no," Chuckas said. "I don't want to go the way of the dinosaur."

Chuckas hopes sports fans will think about racing in Maryland more than just one week a year.

Revenues from casino gambling have helped the sport. No longer is there any talk about the Preakness leaving Pimlico.

"You can have your big event days. Those will always draw," Chuckas said. "If you really believe all these people will come back to the track on a daily basis, on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, it's not going to happen."

Many in the large crowd were drawn by infield entertainment. The top musical act was Lorde, and a lot of those fans didn't care that there were 13 races to bet on.

The big race was won down the stretch when California Chrome took a 3-length lead and held on.

"This Preakness was tough," jockey Victor Espinoza said. "The way this race was set up, it was just kind of complicated."

Espinoza won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness aboard War Emblem in 2002, falling short in the Belmont.

California Chrome's co-owner Steve Coburn doesn't think that will happen again.

"This is a nice horse. He loves people. He love what he does, and that's why he's America's horse," Coburn said.

Espinoza has won six straight races since he became California Chrome's rider late last year. He's ready for another shot at the Triple Crown.

"I'm just glad to have my second chance in my career. In a million years I didn't think I was going to have a second chance. I was very close for once," Espinoza said. "Here we go. I'm here again."

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