He just wasn't good enough


In the end, California Chrome just wasn't good enough. In the long and, for many, excruciating run down the stretch at Belmont Park, he had an opportunity to win and become the 12th horse in the history of the sport to sweep the famed Triple Crown series, but he just wasn't good enough Saturday. He didn't have it in him to spurt away from rivals as he had in Kentucky and Maryland.

And so instead California Chrome becomes the 12th horse since Affirmed to have his Triple Crown bid thwarted by the circumstances and, probably most of all, the distance of the Belmont Stakes. The list has become long and the disappointment entrenched. Horse racing and frustration seem to have become bedfellows.

Because of that, some will argue that Saturday's outcome means the series should change and that there should be more time between the races, with the Preakness run in June and the Belmont perhaps in July. There could be a clamor for change. But that isn't what we should take away from Saturday's outcome at all.

More than anything, Saturday's Belmont Stakes should have reminded everyone that sweeping the Triple Crown is indeed a great achievement: winning three classic races, on three ovals, at three distances in five weeks. In no small way, Saturday's Belmont complimented the 11 Triple Crown winners, especially those three great horses of the 1970s -- Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. In the end, California Chrome simply wasn't good enough.

This 146th Belmont was, in many ways, an outstanding race, with several horses emptying all their power and energy and struggling to define themselves in victorious terms right down to the wire, where Tonalist put his head in front of Commissioner, completing the 1½ miles in 2:28.52, a very solid clocking. With five horses finishing within two lengths of each other at the wire, the race sent the needle on the excitement meter to the limit. But then Steve Coburn, one of California Chrome's owners, spilled his bitterness onto the scene.

"That's a coward's way out," he said, referring to the opportunity some have to join the series in progress or to skip one of the races and focus on another. Tonalist and Commissioner didn't run in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. Only three horses competed in all three races this year, and on Saturday, Ride On Curlin was eased, General A Rod ran seventh and California Chrome finished in a dead-heat for fourth, with Wicked Strong.

"That's not fair," Coburn said, sounding rather childish, about the stressful demands of the Triple Crown. But, of course, it was fair for Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. And it wouldn't be fair to them to ask anything less of the next Triple Crown winner.

Coburn said only horses that qualify to race in the Kentucky Derby should be eligible to run in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. That, of course, is nonsensical, for it would guarantee small fields at both Pimlico and Belmont Park. To change the spacing of the races would be terribly unwise; to allow only 20 horses eligibility for three of the most significant races in America would be imbecilic. And so, in the end, California Chrome wasn't good enough to win the Triple Crown, nor was one of his owners.

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