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Disappointment Reigns as California Chrome Loses Triple Crown Bid

Credit, Joe Bianchino

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

On a gorgeous Long Island day – with over 100,000 bearing witness, with the last three jockeys to win the Triple Crown there to give their blessing – this wasn’t supposed to happen.

California Chrome wasn’t supposed to lose.  This rags-to-riches story wasn’t supposed to end in disappointment.  It didn’t deserve that.

But then again, none of this was ever supposed to happen, anyway.  

Horse racing is a blue blood sport – one haves and have-nots, one where blood lines are agonized over as though deciding royal succession.  You’re not supposed to just shuck that tradition.  An $8,000 investment isn’t supposed to become royalty.

Which is maybe why we all connected with this story so deeply – why we came to identify with it.

Why, when the field turned for home and California Chrome surged up along the outside to challenge the lead, we erupted into a fit of untamable, uncontrollable energy.  Why, when it finally became clear the colt just didn’t have it that day, we were, in fact, finally tamed.  And silenced.  And left wanting.

Because California Chrome represented more than just the horse racing industry.  He represented, in a way, the American dream – the ever present hope that anyone can make of themselves anything they want.

Dumb Ass Partners started three years ago, in comparison to the rest of the horse racing world, with a dollar and a dream.  Out of that, they built a horse that came within a sixteenth of a mile from winning the sport’s first Triple Crown since 1978.  They very nearly made history with little more than hard work and will.

That effort deserved better than to watch their horse finish tied for fourth, with Christophe Clement’s Tonalist rallying for the win.

Or maybe they didn’t.  Maybe, even in defeat, California Chrome showed us something about that American Dream.  Because the truth is, no one deserves anything.  Not until you earn it.

After the race, the always outgoing Steve Coburn, the majestically mustachioed co-owner of California Chrome, ranted to NBC about horses that entered the Belmont after skipping one or both of the other two Triple Crown races – pointedly indicting the three who beat him and the one with whom he dead-heated for fourth.  Winner Tonalist skipped both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.  Runner-up Commissioner did the same.  Medal Count and Wicked Strong, third and tied for fourth respectively, both chose to avoid the Preakness.

“The cowards way out,” he spoke of them, lamenting that the Triple Crown had become too hard.  ”I’m 61-years-old and I’ll never see, in my lifetime, another Triple Crown winner.”

And maybe that’s true.  But if it is, while regrettable, it is the way it should be.

History should be hard.  It shouldn’t come easy.

California Chrome had every opportunity to win today.  The fact that he didn’t isn’t an indictment of the horses he faced – nor is it one of the Triple Crown process.

The Belmont Stakes is said to be “The Test of a Champion.”  It is the culmination of a grueling string of races meant to ensure that only those who are truly worthy get to wear the Triple Crown.

California Chrome turned for home without his normal, effortless kick.  He was tired, the process had taken it’s toll.  He didn’t pass the test.

And that’s OK.

The dream was not realized today. But Steve Coburn and his partners, and we through them, lived it for a while, and that’s a gift we should cherish, as we look onto next year, when perhaps someone else will help us live it again.

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