Now that all the pre-race speculation of a newly ordained Triple Crown winner has been dashed with California Chrome's fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, and the vituperative outbursts spewed by the horse's co-owner, Steve Coburn, have been indelibly etched in the annals of regrettable rants in sports history, let's take a long hard look at the issues that have been unearthed as a result of all the attention given to the event.
Although California Chrome's performance in New York did little to underwrite Coburn's description of his entry as "America's Horse," despite "Chrome's" valiant effort in the Belmont Stakes (he finished only a length off the winner, Tonalist), the horse simply did not have enough left in his tank, which could have been further exacerbated by a hoof injury sustained in the race.
Following the completion of the event, Coburn was quick to point out that the "fresh horses" entered by the "cowards" -- those that didn't run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes or both -- had a distinct advantage. Yet, so did all the "fresh horses" entered in the Belmont Stakes that were still beaten to the wire by the 11 Triple Crown winners dating back to 1919 when Sir Barton was the first to wear the crown.
The real issue is not Coburn's "sour grapes" posturing, nor was the universal disappointment endured by yet another unfulfilled Triple Crown winner. The real travesty is the exploitation of horses long before they are physiologically ready to race.
Given the fact that horses do not fully develop until they are five to five and a half years old, it is unconscionable to demand that these equines run in three grueling races within a five-week period, let alone race as juveniles (2-year-olds), which all the entries did prior to their participation in the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. Is it any wonder why so many race horses break down before they even reach maturity?
Unfortunately, it is the nature of the industry. In all too many instances, these horses are nothing more than commodities -- "Race 'em till they can't earn enough, then kick 'em out of the barn and replace 'em with another one." As for the "rejects," they are either entered in less-demanding races or shipped to another track where the competition isn't as stiff, all the while being "doctored" to enable them to keep racing.
If they can't pay their way under these alternative circumstances, most are then are relegated to someone's backyard hack or shipped off to the "killers" and wind up in a can of dog food or on a dinner plate in France.
One solution that would "improve the breed" would be to prohibit racing horses before age three, and limiting the distances and frequency that they would race as three-year-olds. Unfortunately, chances of these constraints being implemented are slim to none. The powers-that-be in the industry just wouldn't stand up to those guided by economics in deference to the well-being of horses.
At the very least, the thoroughbred industry should lengthen the time between the three legs of the Triple Crown -- four weeks instead of two between the Derby and the Preakness and six weeks instead of three between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. This would also counter Coburn's objection since all the horses entered in the Belmont Stakes would be "fresh," regardless of whether or not they raced in the other legs of the Triple Crown.
Thankfully, Coburn saw the error of his ways and took the high road with his mea culpa. More importantly, this could be a lesson for all of us -- to rejoice minus the histrionics when winning, to be gracious when losing, and that every winning athlete, albeit four or two legged, deserves accolades, not criticism.
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