He just wasn't good enough

Horses don't race to gratify their connections or assuage hurt feelings. Horses don't race so that racetracks can make money or so that states can collect taxes. They race for no other reward than the chance to define themselves, and they race for the joy and pleasure of the fans. The next Triple Crown winner should have the opportunity to define his greatness in traditional terms, and the fans deserve to see the best racing and the most challenging series, with the best horses of a generation, that the sport can present.

While Coburn fulminates about the Triple Crown, some might blame California Chrome's rider, Victor Espinoza, for the defeat. He could have sent the flashy chestnut colt to the lead immediately. But the pace was reasonable, at 48.52 seconds for the opening half-mile, and to grab an early advantage California Chrome might have had to run too fast too early. He didn't have an early lead in either the Derby or Preakness. And Espinoza could have kept California Chrome near the inner rail, saving ground, rather than moving outside on the backstretch. But who can say whether they would have been able to get through at the top of the Belmont stretch? California Chrome went wide, lost by less than two lengths. With a better trip, yes, he might have won, but that's one of those infallible observations of hindsight. He just wasn't good enough.

Spectacular Bid's loss in the Belmont was stunning because he seemed virtually invincible and, coming immediately after Seattle Slew and Affirmed, the achievement seemed at the time so attainable. Alysheba's loss in New York might have been equally stunning, but largely because he lost so badly. Sunday Silence lost to a great horse in Easy Goer, and so their 1989 Belmont wasn't so much a disappointment as a chapter in an unforgettable rivalry. Real Quiet's defeat by a nose in 1998 was a blow to the belly since he appeared to have the race won. Smarty Jones' faltering in deep stretch produced a collective sigh from a crowd of more than 120,000, and that was probably the most disappointing Belmont outcome in recent years, until perhaps Saturday.

The sport needs many things, and a Triple Crown winner definitely isn't foremost among them. But such a horse, such an accomplishment, at least would have provided a rallying point and a feel-good moment. In the end, though, California Chrome was only good enough to remind everyone that sweeping the three races of the Triple Crown remains one of sport's greatest challenges.

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