I won’t get into the name calling of California Chrome principle owner Steve Coburn that has resulted from his tirade about Saturday’s running of the Belmont Stakes, you know the cute little plays on words about the name of his ownership group, “Dumb Ass Partners”. I’ll give Coburn the benefit of the doubt. He’s new to the Triple Crown series. California Chrome, at the moment, is the only horse his partnership owns, though that is likely to change once they start cashing in on the lightning they struck in the California Chrome bottle. The three and a half million they’ve earned on Chrome’s winnings this year will be peanuts compared to the breeding fees they can now command.

But that’s the way it is with the ownership of many of the Triple Crown contenders. They strike lightning in a bottle, come out of nowhere with a horse from nowhere and, if things don’t go their way, argue with tradition. I’ll give Coburn the benefit of the doubt and assume that all he needs is a history lesson.

For the uninformed, California Chrome’s bid to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years finished out of the money, the third jewel, the Belmont Stakes, won by Tonalist, a horse that hadn’t run in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. Coburn’s emotional acceptance of defeat was to charge that horses that don’t run in the first two legs shouldn’t be allowed to compete in the third. By his reasoning California Chrome would have a Triple Crown, as the first finisher among the horses that ran in all three. Also by his reasoning, no one would care. Only three horses, California Chrome, General A Rod and Ride On Curlin ran in all three this year. A three horse race would do little to attract the kind of crowd that turned out at Belmont on Saturday. No one wants a Triple Crown winner in a walkover, they want to see it happen against the best field possible. It’s all part of the history that Coburn doesn’t seem to understand.

The Triple Crown just came to be, no one designated it as such. A century and a half ago, the three races just stood out from the rest with the best field of contenders from positioning in a season of racing. There is no rule about running in all three, or even two of the three. The Derby winner is pretty much obligated to continue the run, though there’s nothing to keep a conservative trainer, concerned about the short two weeks between the first two races from keeping the Derby winner out of the Preakness. Afterall, they’ve already claimed the big money, the largest single purse, two and a half million dollars, and winning the Derby carries the big breeding fees. No one knows a horse better than it’s owners and trainer, and if they feel two weeks isn’t sufficient recovery time no one should condemn them for refusing to risk the future, or even the life, of the animal.

The varying distances also determine which races may be more suitable for a horse. It was no surprise horses that sat out one, or both of the previous races signed up for Belmont. It’s where California Chrome, not from distance breeding, was most vulnerable, at the longest of the three tracks. Wicked Strong, considered a long distance runner, who closed hard at the finish of the Derby only to run out of distance, skipped the Preakness but came back for the Belmont Stakes.

With a Derby and Preakness winner Coburn has a chance to get deeper into the science of thoroughbred ownership and the history of the Triple Crown. He quite possibly could be back for another go in two or three years, when he should know better. For now I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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