California Chrome, California dreamin' and the harsh reality of Elmont, New York

California Chrome, winner of this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes failed to win racing's Triple Crown Saturday, tying instead for 4th place in the Belmont Stakes.

Held 5 weeks after the the Kentucky Derby and 3 weeks after the Preakness, the mile and a half Belmont Stakes is run at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY.

With three big races held in so short a time, it's not surprising there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in 36 years.  And therein lies the rub.

California Chrome's jockey and trainer took the loss stoically and with grace, but not so with co-owner, Steve Coburn.  Lip quivering, Coburn accused Tonalist, the horse that won the Belmont Stakes of cowardice, taking the easy way out by skipping the first two legs of the Crown.

Coburn didn't specify how he determined the relative bravery of Thoroughbreds, but on Sunday he doubled down on his anger at horses who just "show up" at Belmont without having made an appearance first at Churchill Downs (Kentucky Derby) and Pimlico (Preakness).

Monday morning brought a change of heart to Steve Coburn, as Monday mornings often do.  He was in a better frame of mind and apologized all around.  Clearly, Coburn was distraught over seeing his horse denied that rare place in history, especially when he was less than two lengths away from victory.

In a country of animal lovers, Coburn's deep emotional involvement with his athletic equine will probably get him some slack.  America will be watching, Steve.

The part that most Americans won't think about, though is the $7M-$8M Saturday's race might have cost Coburn and his co-owners.

It's estimated that California Chrome's stud fees-probably around $25,000 a pop-would have put his value as a Triple Crown winner at about $15 Million.  After Saturday's race, his stud fees would be about half that, putting his value at around $8 Million.

He shouldn't feel too bad, though. You wouldn't believe some of the things I have to do just to get my wife to take me out to dinner.

Even with the Coburn brouhaha behind us, there's still a lingering debate about the interval between the three races of the Triple Crown.  In a nutshell, these are the two opposing points of view:

1.  By running the three races of the Triple Crown with 4 weeks between each one, a more competitive field of horses will be able to run all three races. It would be cool to see the top horses in the country have the ability to run all 3 races.  It would be like the Stanley Cup Finals.

2.  If you make the Triple Crown less challenging, you cheapen it's value and make all comparisons between future and past champions impossible.  It would be a little like giving a soccer trophy to every kid who shows up.

There's only been 11 Triple Crown winners and most racing fans know the names of the last 3-Affirmed (1978), Seattle Slew (1977) and Secretariat (1973).  All records are made to be broken, but some, not too easily.

Once dominated by European monarchs, the "Sport of Kings" is now a multi-billion dollar business that often commoditizes horses and subjugates their well-being to a more fiscal, risk-reward model.  While some owners may cherish their noble steeds, most only see dollar signs and feed bills.

Whenever someone tells you it's not about the money, it's about the money.

Any honest horse breeder or veterinarian will tell you that a horse's musculoskeletal system isn't mature until the age of 6 or 7.  Their bones are not fully calcified, not at full strength until that time.

The Belmont Stakes is a race for 3-year olds.  Colts (with balls), geldings (no balls) and fillies (females) are eligible.

Compounding the fact that Thoroughbreds are subjected to stresses beyond the maturity level of their bodies, commonplace use of the drug Lasix further weakens their bones.

When forced to run at full speed for lengthy periods-two minutes is a long time at full gallop-many horses bleed from their lungs and up through their noses and mouths.  If you want to find out why horses bleed, how Lasix affects them and why it's used, read here .

In short, Lasix, a powerful diuretic reduces horses' blood pressure and forces excess body fluids out with their urine, flushing out needed calcium.

Hence the term, "Piss like a racehorse".

Some breeders feel that the reason for the Triple Crown drought is that the fiscal demands of the horse racing business has created less durable animals.  There have been some dramatic and tragic examples.

In 1990, a seemingly healthy filly named Go For Wand broke her ankle in her first race and had to be destroyed in front of the grandstand at Belmont Park.  On the same day, a colt named Mr. Nickerson died of a heart attack.

More recently, (2008) Eight Belles broke both her front ankles at the finish line of the Kentucky Derby and was put down on the spot.

If you've ever stood on the rail at Arlington Park-or any racetrack-when the horses come pounding down the final stretch, you've experienced the adrenaline rush of horse racing.  At what cost, though are we willing to make those horses run?

Now I feel like I should go up to Wisconsin and adopt a Greyhound.  That would be a blog for another day.

Keep up with my posts ... type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. You will NEVER get anything else from me (no SPAM!), and you can opt out at any time.

Leave a comment