Delahoussaye sees possibilities for California Chrome in Belmont Stakes

Delahoussaye sees possibilities for California Chrome in Belmont Stakes
Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye aboard Cardmania in the Winner's Circle after Breeders' Cup victory at Santa Anita Park. (Patrick Downs / Los Angeles Times)

Eddie Delahoussaye has been there, done that.

He has seen Belmont, both a race course in Elmont, N.Y., and a $1.5-million stakes race that is the Triple Crown's annual grand finale. He has felt it, smelled it, savored the place and the race.

The now-retired 62-year-old Hall of Fame jockey, winner of 6,384 races — including five Triple Crown races and seven Breeders' Cup races — has the Belmont in his blood. He rode in it four times and won it twice.

Friday, as he sat at Santa Anita and pondered the week ahead for California Chrome and his friends, trainer Art Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza, he was nudged to flash back to 1988 and his famous Belmont ride on Risen Star.

The pair had finished third in the Kentucky Derby that year even though Risen Star was left flat-footed in the gate from the No. 1 pole position and had to battle to gain ground at the end. Then, in the Preakness, Delahoussaye watched Derby-winning filly Winning Colors hook up with Forty Niner in an exhausting battle and merely waited until "they killed each other" to ride around them and win.

That brought the Belmont, and the nagging thought that a Triple Crown might have been in play without Risen Star's horrible Derby start.

"Regrets?" Delahoussaye said. "Any time you have a shot at a Triple Crown and don't get it, you have regrets."

So the Belmont, run at a big, beautiful, demanding and scary oval where racing dreams go to die, was his consolation prize. It has been 26 years, and the details still came easily.


"Along the backstretch, I see she [Winning Colors] is weakening," Delahoussaye said. "My horse [Risen Star] went past her and as soon as he did, I could see she was done. He just kept on going. I wasn't asking him. He was a big horse and he just went out on his own.

"I got to the turn and looked back. Nobody there. I looked again on the homestretch and still nobody. When I got across the finish line, I turned and took a long look. I still couldn't see anybody. You always hear them coming. I said, 'Wow.' It was silent. It is never silent. There was nobody else around.

"And then, I got to wondering if he had just won as big as his daddy."

Risen Star's daddy was Secretariat, whose 1973 blur down Belmont's main stretch had resulted in his legendary 31-length victory. Risen Star's dominating victory turned out to be by 143/4 lengths, or the fourth-best margin of victory ever in the Belmont. That is after Secretariat, Count Fleet's 25 lengths in 1943 and Man O' War's 20 in 1920.

Secretariat and Count Fleet were Triple Crown winners. Man O' War won 20 of his 21 races, including the final two legs of the Triple Crown. He didn't run in the Derby because his owner didn't like racing in Kentucky.

Besides Delahoussaye's Belmont victory on Risen Star, he also brought A.P Indy home first at the Belmont in 1992 and Derby winner Gato Del Sol second in 1982.

It is fair to say the popular Eddie D. is a good spokesmen for what the racing world awaits June 7.

"The Belmont is one of the best tracks in the world," he said.

He said he wasn't clear why some have made a point of stressing the track's perceived difficulties.

Richard Migliore, retired jockey and TV commentator, said recently that a knowledge of Belmont was essential and pointed out that all previous 11 winners of the Triple Crown had run a previous race there. This will be California Chrome's first race at Belmont.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux, who had Real Quiet within a nose of the Triple in 1998 and also had Big Brown as the favorite to do it in 2008 before the horse quit running on the last turn, told Santa Anita's Ed Golden on Friday, in some sort of mathematical analysis, that the Belmont track somehow gets to jockeys and horses.

"They don't realize how obscure the circumference of that track is," Desormeaux said.

Delahoussaye looks more at athletes than pie charts.

"I think Victor will be just fine," he said. "He's a veteran. You know where the poles are. You don't have to be a genius to ride there."

This is not Espinoza's first rodeo for a Triple Crown. He had two legs of the Triple in his pocket and a favored horse in his saddle in War Emblem in 2002, but the Belmont gobbled up War Emblem and he finished eighth.

"If I were Victor," said Eddie D., "I'd just ride him the way he always has. I don't think the mile and a half will be a problem, especially if he can get him to relax. I'd let him break and see where he is. If some idiot wants to go out too fast, let him."

Since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978, a total of 11 horses have taken a run at sharing racing's grandest glory.

Does Delahoussaye think the 12th time is the charm?

He smiled, paused for only a few seconds and nodded.

"If nothing unforeseen happens, and if he runs his race," Delahoussaye said, "he'll win the Belmont, and the Triple Crown."