On the morning after a failed bid at history, their stinging loss in the 146th Belmont Stakes hurt no less for those connected to California Chrome.
During a trackside interview early Sunday morning at Belmont Park, co-owner Steve Coburn renewed his tirade against the Triple Crown system. During appearances on “Good Morning America” and ESPN, he vowed to start a national campaign to modify the series.
“If something isn’t done, I will never see a Triple Crown winner again,” Coburn said.
Traditionalists scoffed at Coburn’s comments, joking that Coburn was living up to the name of his stable – Dumb Ass Partners – and the media and many fans reacted as if Coburn was slinging horse manure in the wake of a bitter defeat.
Coburn’s controversial remarks took some sheen off California Chrome’s lustrous achievements, but at least the horse was feeling better Sunday.
The first California-bred Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner cut his right front hoof shortly after the start of the $1.5 million Belmont and ran the 11/2 miles on a bloody foot. Yet he lost the Belmont and his bid at the Triple Crown by less than two lengths.
Trainer Art Sherman, initially dumbfounded by his horse’s loss, later reviewed the race. Shortly after the start, California Chrome in post No. 2 and Matterhorn in post No. 3 bumped. Matterhorn may have stepped on the back of Chrome’s right front foot and clipped his hoof. Or Chrome may have stepped on his own foot; Sherman said he can’t say for sure. A 2-inch chunk of Chrome’s white hoof, down to raw tissue, was yanked out.
On Sunday, California Chrome walked around the Barn 26 shedrow on his injured foot and was doing well, Sherman said, and the trainer felt confident the 3-year-old colt would fully recover, but his hoof needs time to grow out.
“If that’s the only thing, we can heal that up,” Sherman said. “It would take me two to three weeks (to make sure it was healing correctly), and then we’ll stop on him for about six or seven weeks and give him some pasture time. Chrome is going to have a needed rest. It’s been a tough campaign.”
Coburn is starting his own campaign to change the Triple Crown. Although his post-race comments struck many as sour grapes, it’s something he has told reporters repeatedly since March – before his only racehorse won the Santa Anita Derby. He spotted the obstacle that could get Chrome beat in the Triple Crown because it has happened so many times before.
No Derby winner has won the Belmont since 1995. And no horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Since then, 13 had the chance, but they all lost the Belmont – often to a fresh New York-based horse.
Belmont winner Tonalist and runner-up Commissioner did not qualify for the Kentucky Derby or compete in the Preakness. Fresh horses on their home track, they had a double advantage.
And Coburn made it clear he thought it was unfair.
“That would be like me at 6-foot-2 playing basketball against a kid in a wheelchair,” Coburn told ESPN.
Using a points system based on graded stakes, the Derby requires candidates to qualify by competing in major prep races. The top 20 earn a berth in the Derby; California Chrome was No. 1. With only four starts before the Belmont, Tonalist had no Derby points. He won his first stakes – the Peter Pan at Belmont – on May 10, a week after the Derby. Commissioner flopped in his Derby preps and also did not qualify.
“We won the Kentucky Derby, and we won the Preakness,” Coburn said Sunday. “We earned the points to run in the Kentucky Derby. We did not have to race in the Preakness or the Belmont, but we nominated to the Triple Crown.”
Coburn would prefer the series be limited to the 20 horses that qualify for the Derby. Only three horses – California Chrome, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod – competed in all three Triple Crown races. While Chrome tied for fourth in the Belmont, General a Rod finished seventh in the field of 11. Ride On Curlin was eased at the top of the stretch and did not finish the race.
Tonalist trainer Christophe Clement agreed his horse benefited.
“California Chrome went to the Kentucky Derby, went to the Preakness, came to the Belmont; it’s an enormous amount of things very quickly, plus it’s three races in five weeks,” Clement said. “There’s something to be said about having a fresh horse on the home court.”
California Chrome and Tonalist may meet again in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
But Clement would not change the Triple Crown.
“Obviously, it’s tough,” he said. “If it would be easier to do it, then it would mean nothing.”