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The Elusive Triple Crown: What Does it Take to Win?

Posted by Jaclyn Harris on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

California Chrome’s glory shot was almost a month ago, but don’t think that means the Triple Crown controversy is over. California Chrome’s owners are enraged regarding the regulations in place, allowing horses to race in some of the Triple Crown Series and not in others.

While some horse racing experts and fans share these sentiments, others do not. And when you look at the full picture, it’s not hard to see why this is such a controversial topic in the sport.

Let’s Recap, Shall We?

For those of you that haven’t been keeping up or have just being reading up here and there, here’s what went down. California Chrome entered the very competitive field for the 2014 Kentucky Derby and came out on top! Jockey, Victor Espinoza, pushed him forward to close at the right moment, and Chrome sailed beautifully to the finish line ahead of the field.

Read the full 2014 Kentucky Derby Recap>>

On to the Preakness Stakes. California Chrome shipped great and training was looking fantastic. His times were looking spot on to what they needed to be and he was running well. On race day, California Chrome was loaded into the gate with some of the same horses in his field for the Kentucky Derby, but some of the horses were also left out to rest for the upcoming Belmont Stakes.

Since these horses didn’t win the Kentucky Derby, their trainers had no stakes in making sure they ran all three races. So why wouldn’t they rest them and enter them in the longer Belmont Stakes where they could win more purse money than the Preakness?

And what happened at the Preakness Stakes? California Chrome didn’t let his fans down. He worked like a machine and made the same run he made in the Kentucky Derby a few weeks prior, securing the victory of the first two races in the Triple Crown Series.

Read the full 2014 Preakness Stakes Recap>>

Fans and experts began to get excited. Could this be the wonder horse? Could this be the first horse to attain the Triple Crown title since 1978?

Belmont is where the problems started arising for California Chrome. Right of the bat there was the question of whether or not New York would lift the regulation and allow Chrome to run with nasal strips. Once approval was granted, training moved forward, but there was no denying California Chrome was going to be up against a field of stronger horses.

So, What Happened?

California Chrome broke from the gate in the Belmont Stakes in normal fashion – clean and on the outside. Espinoza timed him and held him back with the goal of not exerting himself too early in this long run. However, when the horses rounded the final bend coming in on the stretch, Espizona asked Chrome for more, but they other jockeys urged their mounts forward also. While Chrome tried to regain ground on the outside, he just wasn’t fast or strong enough, finishing in fourth and erasing all dreams of the Triple Crown.

Read the full 2014 Belmont Stakes Recap>>

The Outburst

This is where things got real. When the cameras were turned from the track and into the stands for the media to interview California Chrome’s owners, co-owner, Steve Coburn, had plenty to say. He vocalized his annoyance regarding trainers and owners decisions to rest their horses after their shot at the Triple Crown is lost.

In his opinion, he believes that the horses that run in the Kentucky Derby should be the only horses allowed to race in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Coburn stated that he thinks the Triple Crown series should be exclusive to the initial field of contenders.

Coburn considers it to be the “coward’s way out” for others to rest their horses when his is gunning it, competing in three long races in a short six week time span. In this case, the Belmont Stakes winner, Tonalist, didn’t compete in either the Preakness or the Derby. But on the other hand, California Chrome came in fourth place – it’s not as if he was right behind Tonalist.

Is Coburn Right?

All frustrations and emotionalism aside, Coburn does have a point. It has been 20 years since the United States has had a Triple Crown champion and it is because of the strategy behind resting your horse once he loses the Kentucky Derby. Additionally, on the Triple Crown trophy, there are three points on the trophy representing the three races, and the horses that race in these three are technically “nominated for the Triple Crown.” Does that make the late racers “cheaters”?

And on that note, once the Kentucky Derby winner loses, fans are not as interested in the remaining Triple Crown races because the winning contender no longer stands a shot at the trophy. What kind of toll does this take on the sport?

But by the same token, half the thrill of the Triple Crown Series is knowing the honor is not easily attainable. The thrill is in getting your hopes up to see a horse surpass all odds and come out on top not once, not twice, but three times in a row.

If the Triple Crown was an honor that was awarded out left and right, maybe once within each decade, would the honor lose some of its magnitude?

What do you think regarding this controversy and Coburn’s statements? Do you think it would be beneficial for the Triple Crown Series to only allow the field of horses that compete in the Kentucky Derby to compete in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Kristen Doolan

Kristen Doolan was born and raised a Florida State Seminole. Making her way from Florida to North Carolina, Kristen achieved her B.S. in Business Adminstration, Marketing at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is an avid traveler, college football addict, beach bum and loves spending time with her family and friends. 

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