California Chrome was done at the eighth-pole of Saturday's Belmont Stakes, spinning his wheels and out of gas. He wasn't anywhere near the same horse that he was in Kentucky or in Baltimore. In Rounds 1 and 2, he delivered a knockout punch when he needed one. In Round 3, in the Belmont Stakes with the Triple Crown on the line, when the opponents attacked California Chrome said "no mas."
Don't they always?
Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and now California Chrome. The names change, but the story never does. They all look great in the Derby, just as great in the Preakness, and then run in the Belmont like their engine is broken and they can't get out of neutral.
The odds that 12 straight Kentucky Derby-Preakness winners have lost in the Belmont are astronomical, probably about 5,000-1. That's not a coincidence or an incredible run of bad luck but a surefire sign that the modern horse trained the modern way cannot win three very tough races within a five-week span.
"I'm 61 years old and I'll never see another Triple Crown winner," groused Steve Coburn, the co-owner of California Chrome after Saturday's race was over. He continued to rant before the NBC cameras, calling people that skipped the earlier rounds of the Triple Crown cowards and arguing that for a horse to remain eligible for the Triple Crown races they must dance in every dance.
Who knows, maybe Coburn will live to be 109, but he's probably right when he says he's not going to see a Triple Crown winner between now and his funeral. His grandchildren may not either.
There were some mistakes made on the track. The jockeys always seem to get blamed when a horse loses the Triple Crown, and Victor Espinoza is sure to take some lumps. His ride was a curious one. On paper, there was little speed in the race and with an inside post position Espinoza had every opportunity to take control right from the start and dare them to come catch him. Instead, he tucked into fourth as Commissioner set slow fractions. With three horses in front of him Espinoza had to try to make his move on the far outside and lost a meaningful amount of ground on the far turn.
It was not a great ride, but it didn't matter. Even a perfect trip wouldn't have been good enough for California Chrome to have beaten Tonalist. California Chrome just didn't have it.
"Today, he was a little bit flat," Espinoza said.
With another Triple Crown bust now in the history books, the hue and cry will begin all over again to change the series, to make it softer, easier, a better fit for these pampered modern thoroughbreds who are as tough as teddy bears.
But it's not the Triple Crown that is broken but the horses of this regrettable era in horse racing where horses are trained to run once every seven or eight weeks, when the toughest workout they get is the occasional four-furlongs breeze in 49 seconds, how can they possibly be tough enough and fit enough to turn in three strong effort in the period of five weeks, with the last race coming at a mile-and-half? They can't.
The sport needs to return to a bygone era when horses ran on only hay, oats and water and their trainers weren't afraid to run them often or train them hard in between starts. That's not going to happen, at least any time soon.
So prepare yourself for more of the same. It is easy for the Kentucky Derby winner to win the Preakness because so many Derby starters skip that race and rest up for the Belmont. That makes the Derby-Preakness double perfectly doable. But when they get to Belmont they're going to run into the same problem every time. A lot of the opponents will be fresh, rested and dangerous and the horse that has won Rounds 1 and 2 is going to have a hard time not falling apart.
Maybe someday some horse will win the Triple Crown. Amidst this drought, Real Quiet, far from a superstar, missed by a nose. So, perhaps, it can be done. But it's going to take an extra special horse. That wasn't California Chrome. He's merely very good. When it comes to a challenge that is as close to impossible as it gets, very good just doesn't get it done.