Chasing the Triple Crown

Everything is for sale. In consequence, that once-great American thoroughbred gene pool -- the blue lagoon that produced Swaps and Nashua, Damascus and Dr. Fager, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, Forego and Secretariat -- has been so badly depleted that American pedigrees are increasingly bereft of those classic lines that produced Triple Crown winners. The true distance horse, the true mile-and-a-half horse, is becoming a rare bird in the aviary of American racing.

Is there any wonder there's not been a Triple Crown winner in 36 years?

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio ...?

This Saturday, California Chrome, the winner of this year's Derby and Preakness, will be right there on the top of the stretch at Belmont Park -- a tough, game youngster with a heart full of desire but a sprinter's pedigree. The day I visited Count Fleet in '73, the groom asked me to hold the aging horse while he walked around the back of him. He cut off a swatch of Count Fleet's tail and handed it to me.

"Here's a souvenir for you," he said.

Count Fleet won the Belmont by 25 lengths, the longest margin of victory until Secretariat broke it by six.

I'll be there, clutching a strand of Count Fleet's tail for luck as California Chrome turns for home. He will need every fiber of his being to win it, and perhaps a hair from the mighty Count can pull him home.

William Nack was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated for nearly 25 years and covered stories in a variety of sports and on a range of subjects. He is the author of three books, including "Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance," "My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood-Money and the Sporting Life" and "Secretariat: The Making of a Champion."

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