Santa Anita Horsemen Reflect On California Chrome’s Belmont

by | 06.08.2014 | 4:37pm
California Chrome at Santa Anita Park

Opinions were as plentiful as discarded mutuel tickets at Santa Anita Sunday morning in the aftermath of California Chrome's unsuccessful bid to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years, followed by the politically incorrect rant-heard-round-the-world on NBC-TV by Chrome's co-owner/breeder Steve Coburn.

During the post-race interview, Coburn said horsemen who didn't run in all three legs of the Triple Crown took “a coward's way out” and that his horse had “a “target on his back” in the Belmont Stakes.

Coburn stood by his comments in an interview Sunday morning on ABC's “Good Morning America.”

“Art (Sherman, trainer of California Chrome) forgot to put a tongue-tie on his owner,” one prominent trainer cracked Sunday morning at Santa Anita, where the buzz was all about the Belmont. “Hindsight is 20-20,” said another. “What was a feel-good story became a black eye for racing.”

Coburn's reaction overshadowed a gallant grass roots effort by the California-bred chestnut, who captured the hearts of down-home folks nationwide by winning the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes before falling less than two lengths short in the Triple Crown's most elusive jewel, the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.

California Chrome finished in a dead-heat for fourth in the race, marking the first time in his previous six starts, all victories under Victor Espinoza, that California Chrome did not have the lead at any point in the race.

Criticism invariably rears its ugly head in defeat. It takes more than 20 fingers and toes to point all the blame, be it on the track, the distance, the weight, or horse, trainer or jockey. The reality is this: nobody ever gave a bad ride winning.

“It wasn't Victor's fault,” said private clocker Gary Young. “California Chrome looked like he was falling asleep in the paddock. That was the first sign the horse wasn't going to run well.

“He was dead. I mean, you don't want him washing out and going nuts, but you like to see him on his toes a little bit. For a modern-day race horse to run three times in five weeks and the last race being a mile and a half is a very, very tough thing.

“If the Triple Crown remains at a two and three-week intervals, we'll see a Triple Crown winner sooner or later, but they'll be few and far between because the modern day race horse isn't supposed to run like that. I wanted the horse to win, but like I told you (before the Belmont), it was 50-50.

“It was unfortunate that they put the microphone in Coburn's face and he went from a lovable Wilford Brimley to the grandfather from hell with those comments.

“(Jockey Javier) Castellano (on Commissioner in post position eight, who was beaten a head by Tonalist) had horse. If Victor goes (on the lead from his No. 2 post), Castellano's going to be outside of him breathing on him the whole way.

“Victor took back, he got him to the outside, and right before he got to the quarter pole, on the aerial shot, when he asked, there was nothing there.”

Bob Baffert, who has had three shots at winning the Triple Crown (Silver Charm, 1997; Real Quiet, 1998; and War Emblem with Espinoza up in 2002), chalked Chrome's defeat up to one of those things.

“I was listening to (Art's son and assistant) Alan Sherman after the race and he said the horse maybe was a little flat. It probably all caught up to him. You don't know until you put him in the gate.”

Baffert absolved Espinoza's tactics. “They were going to get him; they were going to go after him,” Baffert said. “I think the horse didn't respond to him. He didn't have the horse. That's why the Triple Crown is so hard; it wears on the horse. The horse was a little flat, but you don't know that.

“You can train on them and they'll fool you. You send them up there and they'll come back and the rider will say, ‘You know what? He was flat.' He didn't have the gears, and a lot of that is it finally gets to them.

“That's why it's so difficult. I have so much respect for those names (of the Triple Crown winners) that are on the (Belmont) infield, because not only did they win it, they trained hard before the third leg, and they handled it.

“The only one I had that handled it was (2001 Horse of the Year) Point Given. He was a freak of nature. He lost the Derby, and that's going to happen, but you need a great horse to win all three races. You're always hoping that maybe this is the one. I think California Chrome is a very good horse, take nothing away from him, but it just caught up to him. He's tough; he can beat those horses, but he just couldn't beat them yesterday.”

Eddie Delahoussaye won the Belmont twice, with Risen Star in 1988 and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy in 1992. Espinoza was blameless, in his eyes.

“California Chrome broke outward, and (40-1 shot) Matterhorn broke in and collided with him,” Delahoussaye said. “Victor got his horse straight and he was trying to get through a hole before he got to the first turn, and he got through, but after that other horses were right in front of him and it was like that all the way to the turn for home and there's not much you can do when things like that happen.

“If it looked like Victor was trying to reserve his horse, it's because the other horses made him do it, because they had him pinned in. When he finally got out, he was good (though five wide) and he made a little run, but then he just hung it up.

“But I know when a horse gets cut like he did (suffering a quarter crack to his right front foot when making contact with Matterhorn after the break), at the beginning of the race, because of the adrenalin, they don't feel it as much. But once they start relaxing, they'll feel it. It was just bad racing luck.

“Victor couldn't have done anything. In these races, you've got the best 3-year-olds in the country, so you can't make any mistakes, because someone else is going to get you, and that's what happened.”

  • Barbara Bowen

    Young nailed it. The horse was near catatonic in paddock and post parade and I thought I was reading concern from trainer and others. But not from clueless owners. I think he would have won if the race was run last Saturday and the one more week in between and kaput – he flattened out mentally. Glad Eddie D. put that grabbed quarter (which is not a quarter crack) in perspective, too. “Grandfather from hell”, lol.

    • Beach

      For the record I don’t agree with Mr. Coburn’s demeanor and words, but I can empathize with his disappointment, which for him became anger. It wasn’t pretty, but I can only imagine how much of a letdown it was for him, because I know how much of a letdown it was for me, and all I am is a distant peon fan. This is a man who was tying the length of the Triple Crown drought to the age his sister was when she passed away at a horribly premature age. CC was born on his dead sister’s birthday. I think part of the reason he wanted the Triple Crown win was for his sister, and sadly it was not meant to be. I’d bet he feels this grief on many levels, and he is not the first person to have difficulty processing such awful grief, publicly or privately.

      As far as I know, CC was not YOUR horse, and thus perhaps you didn’t have a horse in this race? So why do you feel a need to continue dropping the same brand of insults about Mr. Coburn that you profess to abhor? Enough already…we get your nasty point.

      • Barbara Bowen

        Beach, You may have a point about the grief he feels, but that is no excuse to be so tone deaf and rude to the sport, and other participants, or to be so ignorant of the history of the Triple Crown he wanted to customize for his horse. Or to be so unaware and ungrateful for his dumb luck. I rooted for the horse all the way thru, wouldn’t even bet against him despite my better judgement. My disappointment in his game run that fell short was immediately replaced by a far deeper disappointment for Coburn pissing all over his horse’s effort and detracting from such a heart warming story. I did not insult the horse in the comment above, I simply made an observation of his demeanor before the race and noted the humor of the comments in the article. As for my shots at Coburn, along with everyone else’s missives, he invited it, not once, but several times in the past 24 hours…and if you don’t like it, stop reading.

        • Beach

          Yours and everyone else’s insults all over this blog are much more a reflection on YOU than on him, and if you fail to see that–well, that speaks volumes, too. Just because you think you get “invited” to a party doesn’t mean you have to go.

          • Barbara Bowen

            Beach, when did Ray make you a moderator? And does he pay well?

          • Beach

            Please spare yourself any more of this conflicted combination of contrition and defiance.

          • Barbara Bowen

            May I suggest that you ignore my future comments and I’ll do the same for you to spare everyone? Thanks!

          • Bo Mitchell

            Amen Brother!! Coulda, shoulda, woulda!! Problem is it was not them and never will be! Who shall cast the first stone, I think we can see them and they are perfect!! If they spent as much time worrying about our country and there lying government instead of worrying about what an owner said that brought a Winner to California our country would not be in this mess!!

          • Vudu

            Casting political stones?

      • Bellwether

        “Coburn’s rant wasn’t pretty”…Neither was watching Victor Espinosa Whipping the Hell out of Chrome @ the end of the race…

        • Beach

          I agree.

        • ShelbyKK

          . . . and I AGREE!!!!!!

        • Vudu

          What Coburn said in the heat of the moment, everyone seems to go on. I would rather hear the rant than see the beating.

  • Tinky

    Some good quips and comments.

    Mostly, though, #hefailedtostay

  • DavidW

    How about this minor adjustment to the Triple Crown? Currently the boys carry 126 lbs in all 3
    races while the girls carry 121. That would stand for the Derby, but for the Preakness drop the boys to 123 and girls to 118, provided they started in the Derby. If they skipped the Derby (or didn’t qualify) they carry the current weights. For the Belmont, drop Derby and Preakness starters another 3 pounds (120/115) and if they skipped they started in the Derby but skipped the Preakness the weights are 126/121, but new shooters would carry 128 and 123. These
    are just some example weights but it does keep the fields open, for a price.
    It is a change to tradition but the main impact might be on comparing winning times and no one is going to mess with Secretariat’s records anytime soon, no matter the weight.

    • Tinky

      Ridiculous. Penalize the connections of horses who are managing their runners intelligently? Incentivize running immature and intrinsically fragile horses over distances to which they are largely unsuited before they are ready for such tasks?

      Anyone jumping on the Steve “clueless” Coburn bandwagon has either failed to give serious thought to the ramifications of the perverse proposal, or are clueless themselves.

      • DavidW

        Excuse me but the 1st leg is set by the point system of the Derby and is already the longest race most of the field will ever run and weights don’t change for it or the Preakness. A 2 lb penalty above the current weight in the Belmont was a suggestion. When the horses run the 3rd race in 5 weeks, they actually have consideration for their “immature and intrinsically fragile” frames.

        • Tinky

          David –

          Your proposal would put pressure on the connections of Classic runners to start in one or both of first legs in order to enjoy a weight advantage in the Belmont. Too many horses are inappropriately entered in the Derby as it stands now, and you want to incentivize further bad management?

          Furthermore, it is ludicrous to propose penalizing the connections of horses that would like to do the right thing for their runners by saddling them with additional weight in the Belmont. Neither of the first two finishers in this year’s race were ready for the Derby or Preakness, and proper management (coupled with breeding) led to their good performances. Why on earth should they have been penalized for being properly managed?

          The Derby has a point system only because it might overfill otherwise.

          • DavidW

            My last volley with you on the topic – Tonalist didn’t have the points to run in the Derby because he didn’t run in the Wood because he came down with a lung infection and took some time to recover. Commissioner didn’t run because he didn’t earn the points even though he had 7 starts going back to last August and 5 this year including the Fountain of Youth, the Sunland Derby, and the Arkansas Derby– they were trying to get there. I fully support the welfare of the horses but your logic doesn’t work in these cases.

          • Tinky

            My logic doesn’t work? Did you even bother to read my post? Or did ou fail to comprehend the part where I said:

            “Some horses aren’t ready for the Derby or Preakness due to immaturity, inexperience, or soundness issues, while others…”

            It doesn’t matter WHY well-managed horses don’t participate in the first two legs, all that matters is that it is patently absurd to propose excluding them from the Belmont!

          • Anthony C.

            Tinky, I agree that there should be no changes made to the way the Triple Crown is formatted. But must you constantly remind us that your a compensated decade old expert on everything that is horse racing. The ratings, handle and attendance records set show that the public is very interested. Coburns story was part of the allure and his rants were off base but that type of behavior whether right or wrong is what drives todays media. And the new demographic that we want to bring to the sport does not care about your rants on what makes a horse great, how the sport structures wagers and so on and so forth. 18-25 years olds just want instant gratification in case you have not noticed and if the sport needs to explore some new ideas to get them to spend time and wager then so be it. If they happen to get serious about gambling and winning then they will figure it out on there own, losing money has a way of doing that. I guarantee you anyone in that demographic was not offended by what he said because they hear crap like that every day on TMZ. But guys like you with your condescending tone and this is the way it was and must stay with constant corrections for those who don’t agree are what keeps this sport behind the times. My post may not be completly on the point of this particular thread but I see you being the voice of reason in your own mind all over the Paulick report with John Veitch being your yes man

          • Tinky

            You are conflating a number of different issues, and, unfortunately, resorting to straw man arguments as so often happens on this forum.

            I pointed out exactly once that I am a long-standing professional in the industry in response to someone who, rather than sticking to the substance of the discussion, insisted on questioning my credentials. One mention in your world, apparently, is synonymous with “constant” reminders.

            The fact that the ratings, handle and attendance were high was utterly predictable! There was a potential TC winner, and the story of the horse and its owners fueled the fire. It is a real mystery to me why you and others make the peculiar leap from my criticism of Coburn’s post-race whining to imagining that I failed see the value of the broader story and characters. I was complimentary of the horse and his connections up until the Belmont on this forum, though I did occasionally correct misperceptions about his pedigree.

            My tone is yet another separate issue. I understand that it turns some people off at times, but, ironically, unlike many posters, I almost invariably back up my points and opinions with facts. Feel free to agree or disagree, but don’t use my tone as an excuse to avoid the topics.

          • Anthony C.

            Yes you repeated exactly what I said in your third paragraph as to why the Triple Crown format works and should not be altered. It generates way more buzz and interest and that is what the sport needs. Regarding his post race whining, I believe the younger fans appreciate it more and find it interesting but not so offensive in todays world. That may draw some of them to watch that otherwise would not. It set records Tinky! it may have been utterly predictable that it would be very popular
            but I understand your need to be condescending.
            I don’t avoid topics due to your tone but tire of it. I just very rarely see you agree with any opinion but your own. What I stated was my opinion about how racing needs the younger crowd to get more involved I have a 16 year old daughter and understand that todays youth cannot be bored for more than 2 minutes without going crazy. Everything is at their fingertips in a moments notice I am just hoping the sport comes up with more new ideas to hold their interest.

          • Tinky

            I do agree that racing needs – among other things – to do better when it comes to attracting new fans. If your point is that even a controversy caused by someone saying something ignorant is good for the game because it draws attention, that’s fine, though it only goes so far.

            Betting is the fuel that powers the game. New fans, or potential fans can only really become important contributors by becoming owners, breeders or bettors. The primary goal of the industry (from a marketing perspective) should be to attract potential bettors, cultivate and educate them. In order to learn about betting and become reasonably good at it, it is crucial to learn how to distinguish between different classes of horses. Will that recent maiden winner win right back in a 1x allowance? Will that allowance winner be able to make the step up in class to win a stakes? Etc.

            In order to refine those skills, the debate that has developed about California Chrome’s accomplishments to date, and where he stands among the greats, has the potential to be very useful to neophytes. In spite of what you may think, I don’t express my views on this forum in order to gain ego satisfaction, or to show how smart I am. I do so because others might learn from some of what I have to say. I know that plenty do learn from my posts because of the feedback that I get (both direct and indirect), and have gotten over years of posting (first on DRF).

            It is true that my tone can be off-putting at times, and I understand that whatever value my comment(s) may have, it has the potential to reduce my audience. What I try to do, however, is to keep my tone reasonable at least until I meet up with an unreasonable post or assertion. Coburn’s idea was, for reasons that I have laid out several times, entirely unreasonable. When others jumped on board, I felt compelled to point out the stupidity of it. And recognize that this is not simply my opinion; it is plain to see for anyone who has any real understanding of the game.

            I have been an advocate for change in many ways, including exchange wagering, medication reform, etc. But there are certain aspects of the game that quite clearly should be left alone, and I’m glad that you agree in this case.

          • Anthony C.

            I am glad your an advocate for change. I am a big fan of the Paulick Report but do not always go to the comments section so perhaps I caught you when you were on a roll, so to speak. I’m 50 now but was sneaking into Santa Anita since I was 12 to wager and loved the feel and energy of a racetrack. Gambling does fuel the game and I just see that the sport in general wants to stick to its old ways in todays changing world. That is not a recipe for success with so many options for the kids of today.

          • Tinky

            I’m a touch older than you, and cut my teeth at the old (pre-fire) Arlington Park. I was lucky enough to catch the end of the Golden Era at Hialeah (Forego, etc.), and have enjoyed being in the game immensely.

            I am saddened by the long-standing, downward trajectory of the sport, and do what I can to try to help reverse the trend.

          • Barry Irwin

            I can hear Dave Chappelle telling you to “check your tone, son.”

          • Tinky

            “Black Bush” is, outside of Monty Python, probably my favorite comedy sketch ever.

          • ShelbyKK

            WoWWeeeeeee, Anthony! You said it sooooo well. Thanks.

          • Vudu

            Have ranted about the casino gratification loop before.

            I don’t know if we can call it all on 18-25 year olds.
            I see a lot of casino sensibilities in the gratification loop & that has no age boundaries.

            Its the way of American sport. Everything is about creating an ultimate number one & that means an ascendant curve in events.

            The fact is, that there may not be a real number one super horse in racing, ever.

            (That’s just weighing in on a sliver of your post & not necessarily disagreeing).

          • Vudu

            The 3 races are independent of each other.

            Yet they are treated as an ascending sequence, complete with a trophy for taking all 3 legs.

            The hype is what this is about.

          • we’re watching

            I agree, not enough points for the Derby, no Belmont for you.

  • Laurie Herself

    Flat, tired, cut — and still less than 2 lengths from getting it done against fresher horses. Kind of tells me that he’s still the best in his class. Couldn’t get it done yesterday, but that’s the Triple Crown for you. Someone will get it eventually. Just hope they don’t do something stupid and tinker with it. There have been too many close calls (even yesterday wasn’t that big a miss) to justify making a change — it’s doable, just extremely difficult. Which is as it should be.

    • Pebbles

      Eddie Delahoussaye had the best analysis. Chrome may have been a little flat – but once you relax in the race and feel the injury – that takes a toll on the horse. Without the injury he wins the race.

  • Bellwether

    If the RANT was not pretty the WHIPPING Espinosa put on Chrome @ the end of the race was down right UGLY…

    • ShelbyKK

      EXACTLY! Shame on that jock, VE. Just about had it with watching this kind of treatment. Espinoza should have known, by this time in the race, that for whatever reason, this wonderful, beautiful horse was unable to do it on this day. I would never allow him to touch a horse of mine!

      • Heath Belvoir

        You two must be kidding me. There is this thing called a superfecta. Victor actually eases up a bit nearing the wire and finished in a dead heat for 4th. If he stops whipping him and lost the super by a nose or head, people would be rightfully screaming. Must protect the bettors. Victor did exactly what he should have.

        • betterthannothing

          Your comment shows how disjointed racing is with the public at large. Even if you are correct and VE was “urging” CC to protect gamblers and their superfectas, it doesn’t make it right. Live, honest, tired and sometimes injured animals are still on the receiving end of the whip.

          If anyone was caught giving half of the beating CC endured to a carriage or riding horse or pet, he/she would be rightfully arrested. Why is racing trying so hard to recruit new fans and owners (most of them “urbanized”) yet allow the beating of its athletes which the public abhors?

      • Vudu

        “Wonderful, beautiful horse” is reserved for horses turned into media stars,
        My Friend Flicka & Black Beauty.

        The point about riding a horse thru the finish line is crucial when there’s money riding.

        I’m no fan of excessive whipping, but all this needs to be seen in context.

      • SueBlack52

        Hippocrits know no bounds.

    • Vudu

      It was vigorous, and then some.

    • SueBlack52

      According to Coburn’s early one comments about his horses. “Whip and Spur!!!” “Whip and Spur!!! Those were the words he used for Johnny the Watch, Red Sea, and Sucara.

  • race

    Ok, we all are able to put our two cents in, (that’s the reason for this forum), but as far as the race itself, let’s just take a breather and read the comments of Baffert, Young, and especially Eddie D. above—Chrome gave us five weeks of an incredable ride, a brave horse who did not quit, lost by less than two lengths, video this Morning of him arriving back home he looked like a happy horse, glad to be home, all the other horses, came home safe, as well as the riders,
    that’s what matters to me—Chrome will run again, and hopefully give us goosebumps again–r

    • SueBlack52

      That is so true. Too bad you not Steve Coburn. Perhaps the horse will be appreciated by a new owner.

  • ron knox

    this guy had no qualms about the new players when he was brimming with confidence before the race. Now, in defeat, he laments the allowed entry of the new shooters. Needs to go back to Cali and stay anonymous for a while.

    • guest

      wrong. in the post-race Preakness interviews Mr. Coburn brought up this very same point.

      • ron knox

        he’s ignorant then.

  • Steve M

    Everybody makes mistakes. Mr. Coburn’s comments weren’t appropriate. It must have been an emotional ride for them. The DAP Stable did alot of good on the way. Maybe Coburn felt like a parent protecting his “kid” who didn’t win. You could see him building on the interview. Even the lady behind him (wife?) seemed to be nudging him to tone it down.

    California Chorme has lifted the sport. He was gallant in defeat. Guys like Art Sherman should be in the spotlight more. What a gentleman. May C-Chrome have a great rest-of-the-year and become the next Tiznow when he’s retired.

    • SueBlack52

      Too bad the DAP stable was not represented by the majority owner. I’m sure the story line would have been very different.

  • Kathy

    yes, Chrome, even with an injury he was the only of the 3 that did all 3 races who finished do close…he still is the best!1

  • wamman

    In hindsight the work given Chrome a week before the Belmont when he was supposed to work an easy 4F he worked him a mile with pretty quick fractions which took anything he had left completely out of him that’s why he tired in the last 1/8 of a mile

    • Barry Irwin

      Yeah, this and a horse stepping on the back of his leg and cutting into him and causing him to lose part of his foot.

  • gg

    The only thing you can really fault Mr. Coburn on is speaking his mind. I felt the same way when Smarty Jones lost his triple crown bid. He really should have won. While I was praying for California Chrome to win, thinking of Smarty Jones’ defeat made me fearful Chrome would not be able to accomplish it.

  • Marlaine Meeker

    I guess what bothers me the most I was sad and disappointed CC didn’t get the Triple Crown and felt very bad for his great great Team and then Mr Coburn didn’t even let us lick our wounds but poured salt into it. No pun intended. I also very much disliked Randy Moss’s take on Victor’s ride. As I see it Chrome was valiant in his effort and nothing is going to change how I feel about this horse.

  • thestockbroker

    I have been posting for 2-3 years about So Cal trainers and their inability to win magically as they do at home ~28-33%, yet away from the safe confines of home Sat, they were 1 for 16 6.33% It seems whenever there is true security their training ability diminishes. That’s all it could be right??? NOT!!

    • Tulsa Terry

      Yet these California trainers are producing the stars of the sport in a futile attempt to overcome the idiocy of the Eastern establishment. Zenyatta, I’ll Have Another, and California Chrome have generated extreme excitement natonwide compared to Orb, Mucho blah, and Tonalist!

  • Ruffian18

    There was a Sunday Silence at Belmont after Saturday’s crowd got Real Quiet, because the third time was not a Silver Charm for California Chrome.

    Translation: East Coast trainers and jockeys work very hard to deny a California horse from winning a Triple Crown in their own backyard. And their is nothing wrong with that.

  • Barry Irwin

    I touted Tonalist and bet him and I am glad on both accounts, but I think California Chrome would have won the race with a clean break and I agree that he is the best colt in the crop. He was cut down by a horse that had no business being in the race. It is a crying shame. He is one gutsy horse to hang in there like he did. I like him better after this race then before it. He would have been a deserving Triple Crown winner.

  • we’re watching

    I saw the race the way the Cal horsemen saw it. And I still think this is a very good horse, who will show even more determination and win many more races. Congratulations California Chrome, you done good. Bravo!!

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