Blount: Don't go altering Triple Crown's difficulty

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 9, 2014 - 11:05 AM

Ignore the grousing of California Chrome’s owner; Triple Crown winners are rare because few are up to the task.

hide

Co-owner Steve Coburn ranted about horses not running all legs of the Triple Crown after California Chrome was fourth in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

Photo: PIOTR REDLINSKI, New York Times

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

If only Steve Coburn’s wife, Carolyn, had been a little more insistent. She might have spared us her husband’s ill-considered rant after Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, when Coburn — the owner of Triple Crown candidate California Chrome — dropped a big pile of horse manure on what had been a charming story.

He brushed off her attempt to quiet him after his colt finished fourth, extending the Triple Crown drought to 36 years. Coburn raged that the trainers of horses who didn’t run all three legs of the Triple Crown were “cheaters” and “cowards.” It was unfair, he said, that California Chrome should have to face fresh horses in his quest to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in 95 years.

His diatribe only got more outrageous Sunday morning, when Coburn compared running his horse against a more rested one to him playing basketball “against a kid in a wheelchair.” By that point, Carolyn Coburn might have been looking for a spare nasal strip to paste over her husband’s mouth. But Coburn was getting plenty of support for his contention that the Triple Crown races should be changed to a cumulative format: only horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby would be eligible for the Preakness, and only starters of both races could run in the Belmont.

Which is a terrible idea. It would saddle every future winner with a giant asterisk, to differentiate between the 11 Triple Crown champs who took on all challengers from the ones who faced limited competition. It would handicap the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, two of America’s oldest and greatest horse races. And the Triple Crown, one of the rarest and most difficult feats in sports, would become a sad casualty of a culture that has lost patience for the rare and the difficult.

The Crown is not a playoff or a tournament. It is made up of three races with distinct identities and histories, races that are prestigious in and of themselves.

The Belmont Stakes is 146 years old, six years older than the Kentucky Derby. The Preakness is 139. They attract the nation’s top 3-year-old horses, including ones who might have skipped the Derby because they were late bloomers, or they were recovering from injury, or the distance or track surface didn’t suit them.

Coburn would restrict the Belmont and Preakness to the horses that ran in the Derby, which is limited to 20. He wants to talk about unfairness? Try telling the owners of non-Derby horses that they can no longer enter two of the country’s richest and most renowned races. And try telling Belmont and Preakness officials that their pool of potential entries is restricted to the Derby field — and that they can’t take an attractive new prospect, but they can have the horse who finished last in the Derby by 60 lengths.

The 11 Triple Crown champions proved their greatness against every horse that wanted to test them, including fresh ones. That’s the way it should be. Since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978, 11 other horses with a shot at the sweep lost in the Belmont Stakes; eight were defeated by horses that didn’t run in all three legs, and their connections didn’t label the winner a coward or a cheat.

Every year after the Derby, only a few horses continue on the grinding Triple Crown trail. This year, only three Derby horses went on to the Preakness; those same three made it to the Belmont.

If we’re ready to give in to the notion that modern thoroughbreds are too fragile and coddled to win the Triple Crown, there are other potential tweaks. Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, wants to spread the races over eight weeks rather than five. Perhaps a better idea is to breed stronger, more durable horses.

It’s said there are a million ways to lose a horse race and only one way to win. Coburn is assuming his colt finished fourth because Tonalist, Commissioner and Medal Count were fresher, but California Chrome might have been compromised by the chunk torn out of his right front heel at the start, or by a Victor Espinoza ride that is being second-guessed.

Coburn would have us radically change the Preakness and Belmont because his horse didn’t win. Millions of fans wanted to see California Chrome wear the Triple Crown, too, in large part because it is rare and historic and truly special. His defeat stung, but cheapening the Crown because of it would be a much greater loss.

 

Rachel Blount • rblount@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Sunday's Canterbury Park results

    Sunday June 8, 2014

    1 300 yards. 3-year-olds and up. Maiden claiming. Purse: $7,000.2 • Corona Oak Tree (S. Smith) $5.20 $3.00 $2.806 • My...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Carolina 6:00 PM
Columbus
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Detroit
Montreal 7:30 PM
Chicago
Arizona 8:00 PM
Edmonton
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Is Paul Molitor the best choice to manage Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close