UPDATE June 8, 2014:
California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman revealed that the horse sustained a superficial hoof injury at the start of the Belmont Stakes. The injury may or may not have affected his run in the Belmont, but it is expected to heal quickly, and Chrome will likely race again.
Tonalist won Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, but that’s not the story that fans are following. The victory is overshadowed by the defeat of California Chrome, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner that many hoped would become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.
For casual race viewers, Tonalist seems to have come out of nowhere to win this year’s Belmont. The bay colt by Tapit is hardly a household name, and he did not contest the Derby or the Preakness. This fact brought criticism from one of Chrome’s owners.
“This is not fair to these horses that have been in it since day one,” said Steve Coburn. “I look at it this way. If you can’t make enough points to get to the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races…It’s all or nothing. This is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people, and for the people that believe in them. This is the coward’s way out, in my opinion.”
But does Coburn’s opinion stand up to the races’ history? The Triple Crown is comprised of three independent races; it’s not a triathlon. In fact, when Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner in 1919, he wasn’t celebrated as such because those races hadn’t been grouped under that title. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the press started to talk about the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in those terms.
There’s never been a rule requiring Preakness or Belmont contenders to have participated in the earlier legs of the Triple Crown. This year, only three of Chrome’s Derby competitors went on to the Preakness. If only four horses competed in the Belmont, it seems any victory there would be less meaningful. Furthermore, it isn’t in every horse’s best interest to compete in these challenging races so close together on the calendar. Should owners and trainers be forced to compete in all three just to provide a more level playing field for one Triple Crown contender?
Chrome’s victories aren’t negated by his loss in the Belmont. He brought people’s interest to the sport, even if only temporarily. He made New York change its rule about nasal strips in Thoroughbred races. He even had children rapping his praises. He appears to have finished the relatively long distance of the Belmont sound, and may continue to have a race career after this spring. And regardless of his owner’s comments to the press, whoever is typing on Chrome’s behalf on his official Twitter account is much more gracious in defeat.
Not my day today. Thank you #Chromies for all of your support through this campaign. Love you!
— California Chrome (@CalChrome) June 7, 2014
What do you think? Should horses that don’t compete in the earlier Triple Crown races be excluded from the Belmont? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
2014 Belmont Stakes Results:
- Medal Count
- Wicked Strong/California Chrome (dead heat)
Leslie Potter is the Senior Associate Web Editor for HorseChannel.com. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex