"This is the coward's way out," Coburn said. "If you can't get the points to run in the Kentucky Derby, then you [shouldn't be allowed] to run in the other two races. It's all or nothing. It's all or nothing. This is the coward's way out, in my opinion."
Steve Coburn, California Chrome's minority owner did apologize for that comment on Monday but there have been many others who have taken up his cause since the words left his lips after his horse's defeat in the Belmont Stakes. Christine Brennan, a USA Today sports columnist has agreed that the system should be changed to only allow horses that have run in the first two jewels of the Triple Crown to duke it out in their own exhaustion.......... that would show us fans which horse can crawl home first and claim the trophy. The Triple Crown is an event that does not guarantee a winner every year like many other sports but it is unfair of her to state that the current format is akin to a baseball team showing up in the last game of the World Series to win the award. The correct comparison would be more like a basketball coach holding out his better players on the bench to put them in at the end to beat the tired opponents.
California Chrome is a very good horse who I believe will continue to race well in the future. He is not a great horse that deserved to win the Triple Crown or should have had the rules changed for him because "we haven't had a winner in so long.' Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown in the 131 years that it has existed which comes out to an average of one winner every 12 years. In comparison, the English Triple Crown has existed for 151 years and has only had 15 winners, the last one was Nijinsky in 1970. It seems that many opt out of the last race because of the distance and an interest in having speed horses vs distance.
In comparison to Secretariat, Chrome's times do not put him in the realm of greatness. Big Red's time for the Kentucky Derby was 1:59 2/5 while Chrome loped in at 2:03.66. The Preakness times were Red at 1:55 and Chrome at 1:54 which compare well for sprinting, though the actual time for Red's Preakness has been debated on it's accuracy. Finally, Secretariat crushed the Belmont field by 31 lengths and a time of 2:24 and this year's winning time for the Belmont was 2:28.52 which Chrome was a few lengths off of. When attempting to cry foul, Coburn needs to take into account history and the fact that there was a horse that ran in all three Triple Crown races, managed to break two speed records and did not win the trophy. Sham was unfortunate enough to be born the same year as Secretariat and was viewed as the next Triple Crown winner until Big Red got rolling on the track. His owner Sigmund Summer never cried that he had been robbed because his horse was born in the wrong year.
California Chrome has become the 12th horse in the past 36 years to have won the first two races and then lose the Belmont. I don't think they were all robbed by a coward, though many have put forth various reasons as to why their horse came up short in the last race. In the early 80's. trainer Woody Stephens won 5 straight Belmont Stakes, a record untouched to this day. He started in 1982 with Conquistador Ceilo who had sat out the first two races because of a leg injury. In 1983, Caveat won after skipping the Preakness and then retired because of an injury. Swale won the Belmont for him in 1984 and had run in all three races only to die 8 days after the Belmont victory. In 1985, he brought to the track Creme Fraiche, a gelding, who some may have cried foul for since there is no stud farm for him. Woody's fifth straight win came with Danzig Connection in 1986, a horse that had missed the first two races. No one has been able to equal Woody's 5 straight wins and to try and claim that he didn't play bt some imaginary rules is to sneer at his accomplishment......... training a horse five years in a row that will win on that track at 1 1/2 miles.
What of the usurper of Chrome's believed crown? Steve Coburn didn't name names but he sure sounded as though his comments about a coward winning seem to be pointed at Tonalist and his owner Robert Evans. The accusation that Tonalist was a "fresh" horse slipped in to spoil the chances of California chrome are entirely false. He wasn't a fresh horse......... he was a Little League player stepping into the World Series. Before the Belmont, Tonalist had only run in 4 races; 2 MSWs, an allowance and the G2 Peter Pan with the longest distance he ran was 1 1/8 miles, less than even the Preakness. He was aimed for the Derby but developed a throat infection that kept him from racing and qualifying for the Derby. Robert Evans was much more understanding of Coburn's emotions since he had been exactly in that same place in 1981 when his father's horse Pleasant Colony started poorly and then ended up with too little, too late. The fact that Evan's believed that his horse had more than a chance to overcome the distance, the crowd noise and inexperience speaks volumes for his horse. A coward would have left a horse like that in the barn and sought easier company and a shorter distance to win a race.
California Chrome was well on the way to becoming the people's horse with his rags to riches story....... his owners bred their $8,000 slow poke of a mare to a $1,500 bargain of a stud to produce a very good racehorse. This doesn't entitle them to all the winning races they feel they should have. It means that they have a very good horse to race against other very good horses.
That brings us to the statement that only horses running in all three races should be allowed into the Belmont. It has never been a rule and never should become one either. While it would be great to have more Triple Crown winners, lower the standards to a race of tired horses and a chance to see which one could drag it's ass home first would not be much fun. In fact, it would be almost as much fun as watching bulldozers race on a NASCAR track. The clamor for change is echoed by the fans who drop in every year when there is a contender for the trophy but most people in the racing industry do not want the tradition touched. One concession that seems logical is to extended a week between the Derby and the Preakness. Oddly, no one is terribly upset that no one has ever won golf's Grand Slam of the US Open, Masters, British Open and PGA Championship or that no man has won the 4 Grand Slam events in tennis since 1969. I haven't heard that it should be made easier by being open only to players that have entered all the events.
Seriously........... would anyone suggest that we dynamite the top of Mt Everest to make it a lot lower? Heck, that would guarantee that a lot more people would be able to make it to the top.
Wait........... isn't that part of the thrill and challenge? Being able to complete something that is not often done?