Sadly, California Chrome was not able to pull off a Triple Crown win at today’s Belmont Stakes. Looking tired, he finished fourth in a dead heat with Wicked Strong. The win went to Tonalist — who ran a good race and fought for the win.
Many of us were hoping to see another Triple Crown victory, after witnessing three in the 70s, but there’s a reason why only 11 horses have pulled this feat off since 1919.
- 1919 – Sir Barton
- 1930 – Gallant Fox
- 1935 – Omaha
- 1937 – War Admiral
- 1941 – Whirlaway
- 1943 – Count Fleet
- 1946 – Assault
- 1948 – Citation
- 1973 – Secretariat
- 1977 – Seattle Slew
- 1979 – Affirmed
Instead, he will be added to the list of 21 other horses who managed to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but who lost the Belmont.
Why did Chrome lose? Reports are coming in that he caught a quarter — which would have left him hurting. In which case, maybe fourth wasn’t such a bad result. Perhaps coming four wide around the final turn wasn’t the best path. Maybe he was just too tired. Or perhaps it’s a statement about current breeding trends.
Co-owner Steve Coburn, had a bit of a rant after the race (goaded on by the commentator and obviously in the throes of disappointment). His point was that it wasn’t fair for horses to come into the Belmont fresh when the Triple Crown contender had to run three big stakes races in five weeks — especially given that the longest race is last.
“That’s the coward’s way out,” he said. “It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since day one. If you don’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races. It’s all or nothing.”
Looking at opinions of fans in the press, many people agree with Coburn. But there has never been a requirement for a horse to run in all three races . . . or even that a horse needed to have enough points to run in the Derby.
Should the rules be modified? I’m not so sure. Tonalist wouldn’t have been able to run. Although he won the Peter Pan stakes, he was unable to make his Grade 1 start and qualify for the Derby because his intended stakes debut in the G1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct was aborted when he worked poorly and was found to be sick. Should that have kept him out of the other races? Certainly limiting the field to runners would level the playing field . . . but would it make it a true test of the best three year old horse of the season?
The “Triple Crown” is an artifact created by the media — the idea of a triple crown of racing was first used to describe the British trio of “classic” races, the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger Stakes, which was first won by a single horse (West Australian) in 1853. It was imported to the US as a way of increasing excitement for fans, rather than as a test for the horses. Each of the three races is important in its own right, and over the years, has almost disappeared.
The first US Triple Crown winner was Sir Barton in 1919. When he won the three races they weren’t five weeks apart. In fact, the Preakness was run just four days after the Kentucky Derby. Some years the Preakness was the first of the three races and other years the Derby and the Preakness were the same day, making a Triple Crown winner an impossibility. It wasn’t until about 1950, when Cartier was commissioned to make the Trophy, that the concept became more official.
I am sorry that California Chrome fell short. But I’m also sorry that so much of the attention after the race was aimed at him, and that the winner of the Belmont, Tonalist, his jockey Joel Rosario, his trainer Christophe Clement, and his owner Robert S. Evans didn’t get the credit they deserved.
As for California Chrome, he came back safely. Who is to say that his career won’t move onto other strengths and his quality will shine through. Having won the two of the three Triple Crown races he’s in good company. No one disputes the lasting quality of such horses as Man O’War, Northern Dancer, Nashua, Riva Ridge, Swale, Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Silver Charm, and Real Quiet.
What do you think? Should the Triple Crown rules be changed?