'Chrome' to run with nasal strip

A horse just needs to win the Kentucky Derby and it is automatically tipped to win the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Winning the Preakness Stakes simply adds fuel to the fire as the media goes into overdrive asserting that a Triple Crown victory is inevitable.

Forget the fact that we've never had a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed won in 1978 thirty-six years ago. It's hardly a challenge to get excited about the prospect of another Triple Crown champion because it is such an incredible and rare accomplishment in the world of professional horse racing that it is like having lightning strike twice exactly where you expect it to - although waiting thirty-six years for lightning to strike might seem a little too long a wait without one's enthusiasm dimming slightly.

However, California Chrome's just continued his winning streak through the Kentucky and Preakness to raise our hopes that he may become the next Triple Crown champion. And, with equal measures of cynicism and optimism we hope that this plucky three-year-old colt will defy the odds to become the first Triple Crown champion of the century. His story already reads a horse racing fairy tale where a young colt coming from an inexpensive dam and an unassuming sire surpasses all expectations to win six major horse races in succession and is tipped to become the next Triple Crown champion. It's an unlikely story of an unlikely champion making good while beating the big guns at their own game. He's no Green Monkey, that's for sure!

The last two horses to have generated so much attention were I'll Have Another (2012) and Big Brown (2008) but it remains to be seen if California Chrome will even compete in the Belmont Stakes because his owners may not race him unless New York racing officials allow California Chrome to compete with his accustomed nasal strips. Nasal strips are non-medical devices used by horses (and jockeys) to enhance their airflow. California Chrome never trains with them but he's never competed in a race without them.

If public support is a deciding factor then there is a strong possibility that California Chrome will compete at Belmont. Punters are confident that he has the stamina to compete over the 1½ miles at Belmont. He is already racing at a disadvantage considering he's just competed in two gruelling championship races without sufficient rest before the Belmont Stakes; and he'll be competing against horses that haven't competed in the preceding Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. His owners, DAP Racing, may be reluctant to race their champion under such unfavourable conditions but they have a difficult decision to make that will either disappoint California Chrome's fans or put incredible strain on California Chrome himself. It won't be an easy decision but one which rests with his trainers, and one which the public will have to accept.

The undisputed prestige of competing in, and especially winning, the Triple Crown is that it is the stuff of what legends are made of. The challenge for the contenders is that they have to compete in three challenging races within rapid succession of each other, but not all horses are competing in all races. The horses competing in all races are at a distinct disadvantage as they don't necessarily have sufficient time to recuperate before their next race and to be able to compete at the same level of preparedness as their competitors. It may always have been run like this but considering that we wouldn't subject human athletes to the same conditions, it may be time to consider relaxing the rules and allow all horses equal opportunity to recuperate between their races so they are all competing on a level playing field. Anything less would be inhumane.

One event that isn't inhumane is the virtual Triple Crown at Digiturf.com where the online horse racing community races virtual horses for the same distinction of owning a Triple Crown champion. Admittedly the horses are pixelated representations of live thoroughbreds but the stakes are cold, hard cash. They have over 100,000 virtual horses; which are randomly allocated to trainers when purchased from the Sales Ring, but any of them could be a champion over a specific distance or a champion over multiple distances. Virtual horses, it seems, come with their own unique set of preferences and personalities so trainers are responsible for ascertaining their horses' ideal racing conditions and training them to race at their peak performance over those distances.

Since their inception in March, 2001, Digiturf.com has hosted and sponsored three virtual Triple Crown championships a year, and true to real-life racing they also guarantee to double anyone's earnings if they win all three races. The Championship Series on Digiturf.com is huge: three days of non-stop virtual racing over eighteen tracks with countless consolation races. Worth over $100,000 in sponsorships it is extremely competitive. The Triple Crown championships are especially lucrative because any horse that wins all three distances will have its winnings doubled.

Digiturf.com offers the Triple Crown Sprint Championship, Triple Crown Classic Championship and the Triple Crown Stayers Championship over a 1400m, 2200m and 2850m distance. Each sponsored with $2,000 cash, and additional qualifiers sponsored with $12,600 cash. The challenge is that those championships are run over three consecutive days so trainers need to ensure that their horses are racing at peak fitness, and can race against highly competitive fields without burning out. Obviously winning is a lucrative opportunity in the virtual horse racing community but winning all three of them transcends financial gain and elevates the trainer into a league of their own. Actually, the only trainer ever to have won a virtual Triple Crown at Digiturf.com is in a league of her own.

Three extreme distances, over three days, with the same horse seemed impossible until Samster's filly Annie's Dangerous won her first championship title in the Triple Crown Sprint Championship on November 27, 2003 at Digiturf.com. The following day she won the Triple Crown Classic Championship. Unbelievably, on the third day Annie's Dangerous won the Triple Crown Stayers Championship to rapturous applause as she became the first winner of the Virtual Triple Crown. It was a phenomenal accomplishment that has never been repeated in this century, neither online nor in in real-life horse racing.

Virtual horse racing fever captured the world's imagination. Even Bill Finley from NY Times expressed his disbelief that a virtual horse could earn $6,000 when he interviewed Digiturf.com's Samster on Sirius XM Radio. She politely corrected him that while Annie's Dangerous had won $6,000 in the Triple Crown Championships - her filly had actually won close to $20,000 before being retired from active racing.

Ironically, in a bizarre case of virtual reality imitating real-life virtual horse racing, there have been numerous cases of Triple Crown contenders being tipped as the next Triple Crown champion but while punters remain optimistic they still remain waiting. Let's hope California Chrome doesn't leave any of us waiting much longer.

Breaking News: It has just been confirmed that California Chrome will be allowed to race in the Belmont Stakes - with nasal strips!

Digiturf.com is a simulated online horse racing game where players develop their skills and strategies in owning, training and racing virtual horses against others from around the world. The horses are computer generated but the stakes are real.