Millions of people who are not ordinarily horse racing fans were glued to the live coverage of The Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown. A horse named California Chrome had captured the hearts of many Americans after he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness – setting up the possibility of the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years. But it was not to be. Tonalist – a long-shot – won The Belmont Stakes with California Chrome finishing in a dead heat for 4th place.
Americans love winners, and the disappoint over California Chrome falling short of winning the Triple Crown was felt by everyone watching. California Chrome not winning the Triple Crown was a bigger story than Tonalist winning the race. Immediately after the race, the attention focused on the colorful owner of California Chrome, Steve Coburns, and his instant reaction to his horse losing touched off a controversy.
Coburn said that the other horse owners took “the coward’s way out.” The horse that won The Belmont Stakes had not run in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. Coburn was blasting other owners for having fresh horses running against his horse that had run in his third race in five weeks. In fact, none of the horses that finished ahead of California Chrome raced in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Only three of the horses in The Belmont Stakes ran in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Steve Coburn was animate about condemning owners for entering fresh horses in The Belmont Stakes and implied they were doing all they could to prevent California Chrome from winning the Triple Crown. He said that owners and trainers do not want to see a Triple Crown winner – unless it would be their horse.
When he was asked by ABC the day after the race if he regretted his comments – Coburn said, “not only no, but hell no. I do not regret it one bit. It’s the truth.”
After California Chrome won the Preakness – setting up the possibility of a Triple Crown winner – Steve Coburn became somewhat of a pop culture hero. Before The Belmont Stakes, he used his cowboy hat to inspire cheers and chants from the crowd gathered below him. The anticipation of winning the Triple Crown that surrounded Coburn and California Chrome made losing that much more difficult.
Coburn believes the rules should be changed, and that the only horses that run for the Triple Crown are horses that have run in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. He said, “I mean think of it this way. OK, it says Triple Crown. You nominate your horse for the Triple Crown – that means 3. The Triple Crown trophy has 3 points on it. So when you earn enough points to be in the Kentucky Derby, those 20 horses that started the Kentucky Derby should be the only 20 allowed to run in the Preakness and The Belmont Stakes, for the Triple Crown.”
I understand Coburn’s point – but is it fair to change the rules now? If there was a rule change and only the horses that run in the Kentucky Derby were eligible to run in the Preakness and The Belmont Stakes – then would that not diminish the accomplishments of all the past Triple Crown winners that may have faced fresh horses in the final and longest leg of the Triple Crown?
In 2004, Smarty Jones did not win the Triple Crown finishing 2nd to Birdstone. Birdstone ran in the Kentucky Derby but skipped the Preakness. In 2003, Funny Cide won the 1st two legs of the Triple Crown but lost to Empire Maker in The Belmont Stakes. Empire Maker finished 2nd to Funny Cide in the Derby and rested during the Preakness.
In the 1970s there were 3 Triple Crown winners: Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. That prompted some to say that winning the Triple Crown was no longer the challenge it once was. But it has now been 36 years since a horse won the coveted Triple Crown.
I consider the horses that challenge other horses for the Triple Crown supreme athletes. Winning the Kentucky Derby is certainly an accomplishment, but then to come back and win the Preakness, which is a shorter race and more of a sprint, proves that a horse is a great athlete. And after winning the 1st two grueling legs of the Triple Crown and then running in The Belmont Stakes presents the ultimate challenge. Not many horses in horse racing history live up to that challenge.
Coburn's ranting makes him a crybaby and a poor loser. It was no surprise there would be fresh horses running against California Chrome in The Belmont Stakes, and Coburn did not seem to focus on that as unfair in the days leading up to the race. There is no rule about horses running in The Belmont Stakes that had not run in either or both of the 1st two legs of the Triple Crown.
Coburn’s outburst after his horse lost The Belmont Stakes was a classless act and a display of poor sportsmanship. His desire to now change the rules of the Triple Crown takes something away from the accomplishments of all of the horses and jockeys that endured the incredible challenge of running all the legs of the Triple Crown – which includes facing fresh horses in the final leg of The Belmont Stakes.
Rules should not be changed because a disappointed horse owner did not win. The standards are set and you either live up to the standards, or you lose, and it is wrong to suddenly expect the rules to change because you lost. It is as if Coburn is making an excuse for his horse’s loss. And this goes for everything in life from other sports or tests and grading in schools.
When failure inspires a demand to change the rules, there is a suggestion that your participant – your horse or your student – failed to endure the challenge because of unfair competition. But those participants who faced the same challenges and won should not see the rules change in order to make it easier for future competitors to win a challenge that is diminished in magnitude.
Rules should not change because a flamboyant, confident horse owner faced defeat. Rules maintain the consistent integrity of the standards that only a few participants endure – and those who do endure those standards and win are the only ones called “champions!”
Cry baby should look toward his jockey and trainer. Chrome should have cleared and went to the front before the first turn and set the pace and stay clear and run the shortest race. Tonealist just ran a few weeks ago he wasnt as freash as chrome.