There are few sounds like the roar of the crowd at the Preakness Stakes when the Kentucky Derby winner is leading the field into the final turn. It is the sound of hope for a sport that desperately wants its first Triple Crown winner in well more than three decades.
On Saturday, that joyous noise came from a record crowd of 123,469 strong when California Chrome added the Preakness to his résumé. With his victory, he will keep horse racing in the headlines for at least another three weeks leading into the Belmont Stakes.
After a day of sun, and most likely a beer or two, fans lined up against the rail to cheer for California Chrome when he took to the track before the race and then again when he came back victorious. By simply being himself, the chestnut runner has grown in popularity every single time he has run. He will never be more popular than June 7, when he lines up to take his chance at immortality in the Belmont.
"It's an awesome feeling to have a horse like California Chrome," winning jockey Victor Espinoza said. "It was a crazy race. I got more tired mentally than physically. It worked out well, and he's an amazing horse. This Preakness was tough. It has to be a super horse to win the Triple Crown. Hopefully, California Chrome will come back good, and, hopefully, he can do it."
Of course, the winning connections are always happy after their horse takes the Preakness. But everyone on the grounds is ecstatic when that horse happens to have also won the Kentucky Derby.
California Chrome and his connections are the feel-good story the sport needs. I have said it before, and I will say it again: A Triple Crown won't save racing, but it definitely couldn't hurt, either.
Within the industry, the party atmosphere of the Preakness is a constant source of debate because a good chunk of the people in the infield never actually see a single horse. That is the same year in and year out, but amid the drunken shenanigans and questionable attire on Saturday, cheers of California Chrome could be heard in the infield all day long. His name could also be heard in the grandstand, in the elevator and in the bathrooms, too.
Going into the Kentucky Derby, everyone asks, "Who do you like?" Going into the Preakness, everyone asks, "Who do you like -- besides the Derby winner?" Unless you are personally connected to one of the other runners, the entire crowd is there hoping to see the same horse win. That feeling only intensifies in the Belmont if the Triple Crown is on the line, but the groundswell starts in Baltimore. The Belmont is only relevant if the Preakness goes the way the Derby did.
Sure, there are betting angles that are played in the Preakness, and some people prefer other horses in the field, but by and large, one runner is given a massive crowd's unwavering support. If a crowd's will determined the outcome of a race, every single Derby winner would also be a Preakness winner. That's not how it works, obviously, but when it does, it is a sweet thing to witness.