Sadly, another Crown desired was another Crown denied, and sportsmanship took a hit in the process.
Indeed the owners of California Chrome had been providing a view of racing as the Sport of Peasants, but the initial pleasantry was replaced by futility and frustration that fueled a co-owner's unflattering allegations that the fight wasn't a fair one.
Steve Coburn's remarks set a new standard for the “sore loser,” eclipsing the shock value of Barry Irwin's “sore winner” statement following Animal Kingdom's Derby victory.
And to think it took the “fickle finger of fate” to expose this side of Coburn by failing to follow the script of phenomenally good fortune to which he felt entitled.
Coburn has since apologized but the damage to racing, to the Chrome fan experience, and to the remaining connections, has been done. Still, his message was not without merit.
Chrome's conquerors all had four or five weeks rest going compared to the Preakness winner’s three. It was also his third race in five weeks and fourth in nine weeks.
Coburn's demand that only horses that ran in the first two legs of the Triple Crown should qualify for the third and final one is unworkable and more than unreasonable.
Only 14 of 20 Derby runners could contest the Preakness, anyway, and how many that already had run three races in five or six weeks could add a fourth run over an eight or nine week period without suffering possibly debilitating long term effects?
If there is no move to alter spacing between legs AND provide a bonus for horses participating in all legs, answer possibility might be to restrict the Belmont to three-year-olds that have previously run at least twice in graded stakes, particularly at 9 furlongs during a five-week interval beginning Kentucky Oaks Day.
Rachel Alexandra and Rags to Riches would have fit that scenario, the latter beating Curlin. (Now there's a breeding match worth exploring)!
The NYRA could move the Dwyer to the Sunday following the Derby and the Peter Pan to the Sunday after the Preakness, thereby creating tow qualifying paths to the Belmont Stakes that provides a race over the track in addition to a bonus for participation.
The problem is that each Belmont starter this year ran on Lasix which dehydrates them and requires longer rest between starts to reach a suitable energy level.
We can keep running these amazing animals into the ground to satisfy trainers—as opposed to horsemen--but only a hypocrite would claim they were doing what's best for the horse.
The Coburn debacle didn't deter the jockey’s critics from making their self-appointed rounds. In my opinion the race was lost when ‘Chrome’ veered sharply out of the starting gate and slammed severely into Matterhorn, suffering a minor injury in the process.
But many others disagreed, blaming double Triple-Crown-losing rider Victor Espinoza, a dubious distinction he shares with Kent Desormeaux.
Andy Beyer, stating nothing we haven’t heard before said that Espinoza committed a “gross tactical error.”
While his justification for that conclusion was certainly entertaining, it was hardly enlightening given the brutal bumping at the break and Espinoza’s own description that the colt was “empty,” also acting uncharacteristically quiet in the paddock by several trusted sources.
Beyer's buddy and fellow handicapping author, Steve Davidowitz, less elegantly echoed that assessment with “... it can be argued that Espinoza strategically contributed to the horse's defeat.” Maybe, maybe not.
More objective opinions were available from ex-jockey Eddie Delahoussaye and trainer Bob Baffert, whose triple Triple-Crown-misses (including one each with both Espinoza and Desormeaux) possesses a truer understanding of what's involved.
Baffert absolved Espinoza’s tactics, saying “[rival jockeys] were going to get him; they were going to go after him,” he said. “I think the horse didn’t respond [because] he didn’t have the horse. That’s why the Triple Crown is so hard; it wears on the horse. The horse was a little flat, but you don’t know that [until the race starts].”'
Said Delahoussaye, “...I know when a horse gets cut like he did at the beginning of the race, because of the adrenalin they don’t feel it as much. But once they start relaxing, they’ll feel it. It was just bad racing luck. Victor couldn’t have done anything.”
Conversely, money-rider par excellence Joel Rosario not only won the Belmont, but also the 12-furlong Brooklyn that same day. John Velazquez (who many consider “the ultimate jockey change”) replaced Rosario on Ride on Curlin but he performed as if he were totally exhausted and finished last.
Hopefully, all will have other opportunities to succeed in the Triple Crown’s final leg, and that includes bettors and critics.