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Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 Triple Crown Recap: High hopes and sour grapes

This year's Triple Crown run drew a lot of positive and negative attention towards the sport of horse racing.  For the 13th time in the last 36 years, a horse had a chance to complete the Triple Crown.  The high hope was on the shoulders of the obscurely-bred California Chrome as racing fans, sports fans and novice fans from across the country cheered (and bet) him on in the final leg of the Triple Crown: The Belmont Stakes. 

 
The journey began after California Chrome punched his ticket into the Kentucky Derby with a dominant win in the Santa Anita Derby in early April.  He was the most consistent runner entering the 'Derby and he proved he could bring his race outside of California with another emphatic win as the favorite at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

The Preakness Stakes didn't attract many strong challengers, but runner-up Ride On Curlin kept California Chrome honest with an all-out 1.5 length victory.  Under jockey Victor Espinoza, 'Chrome enjoyed perfect/flawless trips which you almost need to win a race in the Triple Crown series.  Unfortunately, that high hope of sweeping the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes turned to disappointment after the wire and sour grapes during the post-race coverage.

Out of the gate in the Belmont Stakes, 'Chrome was stepped on from behind cutting a piece off of his back hoof which Espinoza felt right away that his horse was not perfect.  Still, 'Chrome was placed in a ground-saving trip just behind the two leaders up the backstretch, but one could see he was not comfortable receiving all that kickback dirt in his face.  When the field entered the stretch, there was a brief moment when Espinoza swung him to the outside that 'Chrome would show that turn of foot we have become used to seeing.  However, 'Chrome was spinning his wheels and he raced evenly but bravely to finish in a dead-heat for 4th.

Anyone who was there or watching on TV felt the disappointment of yet another year without a Triple Crown winner when the field passed the wire.  Jockey Joel Rosario aboard the winner Tonalist was interviewed after the gallop out and he had mixed feelings.  He stated that he wanted to see California Chrome win if his horse didn't and his non-jubilant body language showed his class as a person.  He knew how 'Chrome's fans felt and Rosario did not rub the victory in anyone's face publicly.

On the other hand, one of 'Chrome's owners went on a tirade that most all of us have done when in the heat of the moment by saying things we don't really mean.  Of course, not all of us have a microphone and a national TV audience in front of us when we do it.  All the attention was taken away from the winning horse Tonalist and the gallant Triple Crown run from 'Chrome.  That owner did apologize two days later, but the sour grapes image will never leave the minds of those that viewed the angry rant. 

There are those that suggest the Triple Crown should be changed to make it easier to win.  A popular argument is that thoroughbreds just do not race as often as they used to and they need more time between starts.  That is a valid reason, but it would also take away from the 11 who have accomplished this gigantic feat thus making it Triple Crown "Light".

In my opinion, it should never change as we have seen what kind of attention and excitement it brings.  Even if a horse never wins the Triple Crown again, we horse racing fans would not miss the chance to see history after a horse wins the first two legs.  Our high hopes will always be there even if we know the disappointment it will likely bring after the finish line.