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There will be no Triple Crown winner this year, and according to a bitter Steve Coburn, owner of California Chrome, there will be no more Triple Crown winners as long as the rules stay the same. Tonalist, ridden by Joel Rosario, nipped Commissioner at the wire to win the 1 ½-mile third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown at Belmont Park in New York.
Seething with bitterness after his horse faded down the home stretch in his bid to win the Belmont Stakes and the first Triple Crown in 36 years, Coburn spewed his anger at the horses running the race which did not compete in all three of the races for the crown. His comments came in an interview on NBC immediately following the race. “I’m 61 years old and I’ll never see, in my lifetime… another Triple Crown winner because of the way they do this. It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since day one.” The winner, Tonalist, had not run in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. In fact, the Belmont Stakes was only his fifth race ever. In his last race, he won the Peter Pan at Belmont Park. “I look at it this way,” continued Coburn, “If you can’t get enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races.”
For the record, California Chrome did appear worn out in the race. The California-bred colt held a brief lead in the front stretch, but languished between third through fifth place all the way around the Belmont oval. Sitting in fourth coming out of the final turn, the Belmont crowd held its collective breath in anticipation of Chrome’s famous home stretch drive, which never materialized. With a furlong left to go, it was clear to everyone that California Chrome would not be the Triple Crown winner this year. Tonalist, the winner of the race, was followed by Commissioner and Medal Count. California Chrome ended in a dead heat with Wicked Strong for fourth.
“This is the coward’s way out, in my opinion, this is the coward’s way out,” continued Coburn, claiming all of the other horses, trainers and jockeys came after his horse, “Our horse had a target on his back. Everybody else lays out one, or they won’t run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. They’ll wait until the Belmont.” Coburn was just getting warmed up, “You know what, if you’ve got a horse, run him in all three,” and he had a suggestion for those who make the rules governing the Triple Crown, “Those 20 horses that start in Kentucky are the only 20…eligible to run in all three races. This is the coward’s way out.”
Emotion may have gotten the best of Coburn in the first moments after the Belmont Stakes, as most would argue that the same rules have been in effect for each of history’s 11 Triple Crown winners. Professional handicapper Ted Whitley, of the Whitley Group, says Coburn’s rant amounted to nothing more than sour grapes, and California Chrome was not the type of horse who could win the coveted crown, “Will there be a Triple Crown winner? Yes, there will be, but he is going to be the likes of a Secretariat, he’s going to be the likes of Affirmed. He is going to be a super horse…and until we get a super horse, we’re not going to get a triple crown.” Whitley went on to say that the format for the Triple Crown should remain the same, “It deserves to be left exactly as it is, or it doesn’t give ample credence to the horses who have done it before.” He also says it would cheapen the accomplishment of any horses who would win it in the future.
For now, the Triple Crown has been denied for another year at the Belmont Stakes and nothing–even the bitterness of California Chrome owner Steve Coburn–can change it. For the record, Tonalist paid $20.40 to win, $9.60 to place and $7.00 to show. Commissioner paid $23.20 and $13.20, and Medal Count paid $13.20 to show. The 11-8 Exacta paid $348.00, and a $1 Trifecta ticket on 11-8-1 paid $3,390.50.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky