Well, that California Chrome feel-good story sure turned south fast. Owner Steve Coburn had a post-race rant that would have made Ric Flair proud.
California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, handled the loss with the dignity you would expect from someone in the racing game his entire life. The levelheaded Sherman expected Coburn to retract his statements after thinking things over for a night, but that didn’t happen.
Instead Coburn repeated those same accusations on Sunday, the day after the Belmont. He entrenched himself in his position like Ser Allison Thorne at Castle Black. Bad move for both, but at least Thorne is only a fictional character.
Monday morning a teary eyed Coburn finally retracted his statements on national television.
The idiots with a bullhorn who occupy social media (Wait a second, I’m one of them!) will accept or reject his apology, but that’s not my concern.
The metaphor of comparing California Chrome’s task in the Belmont to a kid in wheelchair trying to beat a 6’2″ guy in a game of basketball is pretty laughable and doesn’t deserve a reply.
However, Coburn’s statements accusing Tonalist’s connections of being cheaters and taking the cowards’ way out is resonating with some.
A few people, mostly those outside of racing, agree with Coburn and would like to see some rule changes that would make winning a Triple Crown easier.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Belmont had one of its biggest crowds of all-time. The television ratings for the Belmont Stakes were some of its highest ever. The reason it garnered so much interest is because of the exact thing they want to change.
Winning the Triple Crown is an extraordinarily hard thing to do. Changing the Triple Crown format wouldn’t help the game. It would hurt it.
Winning the mile and a half Belmont is a huge challenge. That’s why it’s called the “Test of Champions.” Winning it after a horse has also won the mile and quarter Kentucky Derby and the mile and three sixteenths Preakness in the past five weeks is monumental. That’s exactly what makes it so special.
Triple Crown winners have had to face the new shooters Coburn complained about since the advent of the series.
Fresh horses might have an advantage in the Belmont. However, it would be very slight.
Since Affirmed in 1978, five horses were denied the Triple Crown by losing the Belmont to runners that had not participated in either of the first two jewels.
Three others attempting to win the Belmont and hence the Triple Crown were defeated by horses that ran second in the Derby and Preakness. One was defeated by a horse that ran second in the Derby and skipped the Preakness. (I didn’t include Big Brown who didn’t finish in the Belmont or I’ll Have Another, who was scratched.)
A horse gets into one of the most exclusive clubs in the history of sports if he can beat anyone going at him no matter their credentials. If he can’t, well, then he’s still in a pretty good club. It’s just not the best.
Durability of the American thoroughbred has been compromised for the sake of speed. A Triple Crown winner needs both.
The American racing game is geared toward speed, and horses that mature quickly. Many of today’s owners want a return on their investment as soon as possible. My advice to them is to start trading stock options.
Some horses need time to mature. The game is more than just three races in the spring of their three-year-old season.
One solution I’ve heard is to leave the Derby the first Saturday in May, change the Preakness to the first Saturday in June and the Belmont to the first Saturday in July.
It would definitely produce more Triple Crown winners. However it would cheapen the product and more importantly hurt the breed.
A few years ago, trainer D. Wayne Lukas wanted to change the Derby distance to a mile and an eighth and the Belmont to a mile and a quarter. Coming from Lukas, I’m not a bit surprised. It would help him and be terrible for racing.
Shortening key stakes races and accentuating speed over class has hurt the breed. (The Jockey Club Gold Cup was 2 miles from 1921 to 1975. It was changed to a mile and half from 1976 to 1989. It has been a mile and a quarter since then.)
Providing a horse is healthy, the best thing for racing would be for owners to run their horses.
Racing associations also need to ban race-day drugs so breeders can better evaluate the soundness of a particular horse.
Improving the breed with more durable horses that can run further and extend their careers on the track are a better answer than changing the Triple Crown rules to produce a discount version of Secretariat.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com and www.sharpssports.com. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].