Biggest Lessons Learned in the 2014 Triple Crown Season
The dust has settled from the Belmont Stakes, and while racing is once again left disappointed, the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown gave racing fans some thrilling moments and valuable lessons.
Horse racing is a sport of extreme highs and lows. California Chrome looked invincible heading toward the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown glory, only to fall short like so many have since Affirmed took home the crown in 1978.
Here is a look at some of the lessons we can take away from the 2014 Triple Crown season.
Some of the Most Promising Horses Will Get Sidelined
At the beginning of the year, the crop of three-year-olds looked like one of the most talented and deepest in years. Then, one by one, they began to go to the sidelines.
From Top Billing and Honor Code to Constitution, it seemed every week a promising young star was going to be sitting out the Triple Crown. While it was disappointing to see some of the most intriguing horses go to the bench, it actually makes California Chrome's durability all that more impressive.
The lesson to be gleaned from this is that it is foolish to pin all your hopes to one horse early in the year. So much can change between January and the Belmont Stakes.
Joel Rosario Is the Best Jockey in the Country
Joel Rosario put on a show at Belmont Park. In the Brooklyn Handicap, he gave Norumbega a flawless ride to start his day. In the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, he gave Close Hatches a textbook perfect ride to defeat two extraordinarily talented fillies in Beholder and Princess of Sylmar.
In the Belmont Stakes, he delivered handily with a perfectly timed ride aboard the upset winner, Tonalist, to spoil the hopes of a Triple Crown.
The 29-year-old jockey has rapidly ascended the ranks and has made a name for himself as one of the strongest riders in the sport. He won the Kentucky Derby last year aboard Orb as well as the Dubai World Cup with champion Animal Kingdom.
Since that stellar stretch, his star has continued to rise, and in the coming years he will become even more of a household name.
Steve Coburn Is Not Afraid to Speak His Mind
One of California Chrome's owners, Steve Coburn, has shown that he has no problem speaking his mind. After the colt won the Preakness Stakes, he took a shot at the hospitality (or lack thereof) at Churchill Downs. That outburst was met with mostly positive reactions from industry insiders.
After the Belmont Stakes, however, his disappointment and heartbreak over his prized horse's loss colored some of his words immediately following the race. His tirade, laced with bitterness, put a sour note on some of his horse's accomplishments.
Coburn said on the NBC broadcast:
Because this is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people and for the people that believe in them to have somebody to come up...this is the coward’s way out in my opinion, this is the coward’s way out.
Many were not impressed, including the Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman, who tweeted, "Steve Coburn needs to learn that if you win with grace, you need to learn how to lose with grace. That display on NBC just now was pathetic."
There is a fine line between voicing an opinion and being unsportsmanlike.
Fresh Faces Are Always Dangerous in the Belmont
Tonalist did not skip the Kentucky Derby and focus on the Belmont intentionally. A minor illness knocked him off the early Kentucky Derby trail. The focus then shifted to the Peter Pan Stakes and, ultimately, the Belmont.
By skipping the rigors of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Tonalist had an advantage over several rivals in the Belmont—he was well-rested and ready for a peak performance.
Though Coburn ranted that it was not fair to allow fresh horses to come after the Derby and Preakness, the fact remains that trainer Christophe Clement had his horse perfectly prepped for the Belmont Stakes.
Tonalist has established himself as a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season.
Horse Racing Is Alive and Well
Despite negative publicity and an onslaught of criticism brought about by organizations such as PETA, horse racing has come through the Triple Crown alive and well.
Over 120,000 fans crowded Belmont Park not only to potentially see a Triple Crown winner but to also enjoy one of the most spectacular racing cards in recent memory.
Belmont Park and the New York Racing Association created a racing card that was, from top to bottom, one of the most compelling and deepest short of a Breeders' Cup Day. It was the greatest example of "if you build it, they will come."
Though many fans left disappointed in the Belmont Stakes, the entire day at Belmont Park delivered on the excitement it promised.
Great Horses Can Come from Anywhere
One of the most important lessons to take away from the Triple Crown this year is that great horses can come from even the most humble beginnings. California Chrome, with his $8,000 mother and $2,500 sire, has shown that you do not need to be Kentucky royalty or spend millions to enjoy the ride with a champion.
California Chrome came from humble beginnings and proved every critic wrong. Despite lacking a regal pedigree or a seven-figure price tag, the big chestnut colt from the West Coast showed that special horses can come from anywhere.
In a sport where sheikhs and old money rule the game, it is a reminder that horses are the great equalizer in the Sport of Kings. Though California Chrome fell short in the Triple Crown, that still takes nothing away from the incredible thrill he gave fans all season.
The Triple Crown Remains Elusive
Though California Chrome did not join horse racing's utmost elite and become a Triple Crown winner, he did join a very special group of horses that has won the first two legs only to lose the Belmont Stakes.
There is no shame in being held in the same category as horses such as Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence and Silver Charm. Though the Belmont Stakes eluded these horses, their body of work was so strong that they are still regarded as some of the greatest horses in the history of the sport. The second half of California Chrome's story begins now—what he does after this race will shape his place in history.
Winning the Triple Crown remains the most elusive prize for a modern-day Thoroughbred. Fans now will have to wait another year to see if a star emerges that can carry the hopes of racing.
As Privman, one of the most respected voices in the sport, acknowledged, it is just such a hard feat to accomplish. He tweeted, "That is why I picked against California Chrome. I think he is best of this bunch, overall. But 36 years should tell you how hard this is."