California Chrome tops 2014 Triple Crown memories

Victor Espinoza and California Chrome provided five weeks of excitement.

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Tom Pedulla took followers of America’s Best Racing on the Triple Crown trail with him, beginning with the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, then traveling to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and on to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. He shares his 10 favorite memories from that journey:

MAGNIFICENT DERBY: There is nothing like the Kentucky Derby to bring a horse to national prominence. This year’s Run for the Roses placed California Chrome in the hearts and minds of even casual racing fans throughout the country. When he sprinted clear of his foes at the top of the long Churchill Downs stretch, it was a sight to behold.

PREAKNESS ENCORE: The Preakness brought another convincing performance from Chrome. Under intense pressure early, he stayed cool and ultra-responsive to Victor Espinoza. The jockey’s heady ride helped make the difference in a 1½-length victory against Ride On Curlin.

BELMONT BUZZ: I admit to the bias of a native New Yorker. Major events in my hometown somehow seem bigger than they do when they are held elsewhere. From Brooklyn to the Bronx, it was cool to feel the buzz in the city surrounding Chrome’s Triple Crown bid. As disappointing as it was to see Chrome fall short, he was in position to win. I do not believe anyone went home believing he or she had not witnessed a great event while having a blast.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: To be anywhere near Chrome is to stop and stare at him and admire his magnificence. His gleaming chestnut coat speaks of the health and vigor within. His chrome – those white socks and that striking white blaze – make an unforgettable picture. He is as striking as they come.

APPRECIATING TONALIST: As much as the spoiler of a Triple Crown bid tends not to be appreciated, Belmont winner Tonalist deserves better treatment than that. To win the Grade 2 Peter Pan in his fourth career start and then the Belmont in his first stab at a Grade 1 race speaks volumes about his ability. It will be fun to monitor his progress.

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“BRONCO BILLY:” As much as reporters try to stay impartial, it is impossible not to want to root for “Bronco Billy” Gowan, whose Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin is among four horses he trains. He and his wife, Tracy, are as hands-on with their horses as can be. In a landscape that tends to be dominated by massive operations, there is much to admire about their small, loving operation.

TWICE A RUNNER-UP: It is hard to imagine what it must be like to place second in consecutive years in the Kentucky Derby. That is the fate of trainer Dallas Stewart, who watched Golden Soul and Commanding Curve be second best in the Run for the Roses each of the last two years. To Stewart’s credit, he is quick to say, “It is up to me to get the job done.”

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