The Morning After the 2014 Belmont Stakes

June 9, 2014

The 2014 Belmont Stakes day card did not disappoint on many levels. We were treated to a great day of competitive racing with primarily clean, good and safe trips. We had no breakdowns – at least not on the track anyway – and the wagering opportunities were a plenty. The long day went relatively fast and the action was continuous.

Once again the Triple Crown was thwarted. It often is. This year California Chrome, dubbed the people’s horse by part owner Steve Coburn, could do no better than a dead heat for fourth place with Wicked Strong. I thought it was bad when I had Birdstone ten years ago to beat Smarty Jones but that was nothing compared to now when picking Tonalist. The self-proclaimed Chromies were a lot more vocal and venomous than the Smarty Jones supporters back in 2004. Maybe it’s social media, maybe not.

The Chromies came out in force prior to the Kentucky Derby and multiplied with that win and again with the Preakness victory. They were all about the feel good story and the “nice and regular people” owners. Blue collar they called them. It was all about the Triple Crown being good for the game, and if you disagreed on any level or point you were a hater, or didn’t love the sport, or didn’t want to see another Triple Crown.

As I watched the horse’s development and performances, I also watched how the peripheral issues unfolded. I was troubled at the subtle hint they would not run in the 2014 Belmont Stakes if they were not allowed to run with a nasal strip. Poor sportsmanship I thought. That does not mean I think it was a good rule as the Chromies took it. I thought that was unfair and that changing a rule during the game was a slap in the face to other horses that ran in New York without a strip this year and at the least this meet. It seemed very wrong to Doug O Neil and I’ll Have Another who, contrary to popular belief, were never told they could ask for special permission. They were told no nasal strips when the horse got off the plane and they said if that’s the rules that’s the rules. No Chromies came out screaming for a rule change or how unfair that was. Nobody cared and I’ll Have Another was going for the same Triple Crown.

Many of us, albeit not enough, either learned or were taught to lose with as much grace and dignity as when you win. I was taught and raised that way. Anything less was not acceptable. Your character or lack thereof is defined much more by those moments of adversity and challenge than those of glory. Even more so in moments of pain. That is not to say it can’t or never is defined in glory, but it’s a lot easier to be a good winner.

Once Kentucky Derby champion and Preakness winner California Chrome ran his heart out in defeat in the 2014 Belmont Stakes, the final leg in the Triple Crown series, the toughest and longest aptly dubbed the test of champions, it was no longer about good for racing or the feel good story about the good and regular guys.

Part owner Steve Coburn was interviewed after the Belmont Stakes on national television, the big stage. He had an opportunity to repay a bit to the game that was so good and fortunate to him. He had a chance to promote the game we love and show it for the Sport of Kings it truly is. He had a chance to continue this so called feel good story. Grace and humility was nowhere to be found in that interview however, as Coburn bashed the game, the Triple Crown and had the audacity to call Tonalist and his connections cowards. He also managed to work in a verbal and somewhat physical slight to his wife. At least they named the stable correctly.

I think his behavior speaks for itself so we can leave that alone. To all his supporters and the Chromies who defended him with the heat of the moment theory, and the we all make mistakes theory and the he just suffered a heartbreaking defeat theory, and scoffed at my true colors theory, try watching him on Good Morning America today, or last night on ESPN. Last night he called Tonalist’s connections cheaters. Today he compared the Triple Crown to his playing basketball with children in a wheelchair. Even the interviewer couldn’t bail him out and she tried.

What we can talk about is the total lack of understanding of the series or racing or how the game is played. His position on the series is preposterous. You don’t and shouldn’t have to run in all three races because you are Triple Crown nominated. That would have precluded Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness and Rags to Riches in the Belmont, let alone Stage Door Johnny, Man O War and Coastal who I said Tonalist reminded me of in my May column on him. We’d also have some two or three horse Belmont’s. Last week I wrote about the art of placing your horse in the best spot. If you have a horse who is best suited for one of the three Triple Crown classics you should be able to point to it. Newsflash, when you do point to it you have no idea at that point whether a Triple Crown is on the line or not. Many would love the target California Chrome had on his back in the 2014 Belmont Stakes; it comes with winning the first two legs.

The misunderstanding of the game and series does not start and stop with Coburn. Many don’t get it. The Triple Crown has been and will be won again in its present format and true racing fans will continue to look forward to it. It takes a special and lucky horse and the right connections. Many will not know or remember when we had the long drought between Citation and Secretariat there were those who said change the series, change the format or rules, nobody can do it. Then we had a run of three, Big Red, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed all within a few years. Those same people said oh it’s too easy, make it harder, change the rules or format. Yes they did, I know I was there and heard them.

As I have written before, the game has changed and it is indeed tougher now than then. That is not the rules however, nor format, history proves that. It also proves its commercial US breeding and race day medications and the over use of Lasix. Despite that with a little luck Real Quiet, I’ll Have Another, Point Given, and Afleet Alex could have closed the deal. It’ll happen and somehow it seems right in the wake of the bloody aftermath, it didn’t happen now. I doubt there are many who study or love the game more than I and I will continue to watch, wait and savor.

It was great to see Palice Malice, last year’s pick 4 single in the Belmont, come back and win the Met Mile. A rare double in racing and quite the boost to an already impressive resume. Johnny V overcame the rail and worked out a great trip which was really all it took.

As for the 2014 Belmont Stakes, Tonalist was strong. He was well prepared and didn’t flinch at the crowd. He delivered and his owner, when asked about Coburn’s comments he simply said no comment. It was a great win for Christophe Clement, one of the best in the game and on a dirt track in a classic race. All class and the best horse won. California Chrome did grab a quarter during the running the race but if you think that cost him the win I’d love to hear your thoughts on what happens if he wasn’t allowed his nasal strip. Or maybe not.

High 5

Belmont Park for putting on the greatest racing card ever

Low 5

Steve Coburn

Horse to Watch

None, taking the week off to savor Tonalist, told all who would listen.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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@jonathanstettin @Tracking_Trips I am in awer.....9/2!!!It was never even in question! #beyondmembership

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