Post Belmont Stakes: It's About Who Won the Race!

Hey America…It Isn’t About Who “Lost” The Belmont Stakes: It’s About “Who” Won The Belmont Stakes!

From Quarter Cracks To Crack Pots, The Post Race Discussion Sets All The Wrong Tones.

By Jim Hurley

Call me a sourpuss or kill joy or any other pejorative you want to attach, but the coverage of thoroughbred racing from the moment that California Chrome won the Preakness Stakes to the lingering hiss of air that is still oozing out of that deflated event-balloon of preordained canonization was and is an insult to the accomplishments of every other horse, trainer, owner, jockey and attendant who puts the sweat and blood into the very game that gave Dumbass Stables and at least one of their quite ungracious owners the platform in the first place.

Certainly I’m not blaming California Chrome for the stupidity of his front running Andy Warhol (without the talent or grace) "15 minutes of fame" connections and followers, but to intimate that the defeat took something away that “America really needed,” according to the rambling paranoia of the colt’s owner is of course hyperbole at its current media as informative news best.

First the disclaimer. On Saturday, we released to our clients, in order, Medal Count, Chrome and Tonalist. So obviously we believed that California Chrome was going to be in the mix and got everything we could have asked for from both Tonalist and Medal Count and my suspicions about the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner were, unfortunately more damaging than we projected.

That being said, if the mass media coverage of the Belmont Stakes had been a little less "Chrome-centric", a little less “event above everything” myopic, perhaps what turned out to be a great horse race and not a failure of pre-ordination, the explosion of attention brought to the game by the chance for the Triple Crown might have actually turned a handful of those exposed to the wonder of the game into serious attendees on more than three occasions: the Derby (327 days to the 2015 run for the roses), Preakness and Belmont each year.

Let’s get the (owner) Coburn sour grapes out of the way first…

I’ll never see, and I’m 61 years old, another Triple Crown winner in
my lifetime because of the way they do this. It’s not fair to these horses
that have been in the game since day one. If you don’t have enough points
to get into the Kentucky Derby you can’t run in the other two races.
“It’s all or nothing because this is not fair to these horses that have been
running their guts out for these people and for the people who believe
in them. This is a coward’s way out, in my opinion. This is a coward’s way out.

Tom Coburn—Part Owner Of California Chrome

It is amazing how much Coburn showed what an ignorant neophyte he is.

First (and obvious): were only the horses that ran in the Derby permitted to go in the Preakness and Belmont the public…the adoring people these horses have been running their guts out for…would have been subjected to a three horse field of California Chrome, Ride On Curlin and General A Rod in the Preakness and a California Chrome, Ride On Curlin and General A Rod three horse field in the Belmont Stakes…yup, that sure would have been compelling. But this observation is easy to make.

What is really insulting is the comment about the way they do this. I have to assume that the they Mr. Coburn is speaking about are Robert Evans, the owner of Tonalist (a son of Tapit, whose stud fee is $150K), WinStar Farms, the owner of Commissioner (a son of A.P. Indy whose stud fee is $150K) and Spendthrift Farm, the owner of Medal Count (who was purchased for $360K.)

Hopefully trainer Art Sherman, who has been a mensch about this all along, and to his credit wouldn’t even use the (slight, up above the shoe) scrape of a quarter crack as an excuse will have by now explained that it was California Chrome who created the wonderful six-race win streak and not Mr. Coburn or Art Sherman or Victor Espinoza (no disrespect to the latter two.) And hopefully Sherman has explained to Mr. Coburn that without the likes of the lifetime investment in horse racing by the likes of Robert T. Evans, WinStar and Spendthrift there would be no arena for California Chrome to first shine and then be slightly tarnished on.

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Can We Talk About The Winners Now?

Mr. Coburn’s transgressions are easy enough to excuse if you must, but what about the punditry that has made the post Belmont Stakes more about what California Chrome didn’t do that what Tonalist, Commissioner and Medal Count did do.

Not only did all three beat California Chrome, but they also conquered the contenders deemed most likely to challenge Chrome, Wicked Strong and Commanding Curve.

Tonalist not only won the Belmont Stakes, but did so by tracking the entire way, racing just off the pace while 4-5 wide on the first turn and 3-4 wide from the backstretch to the finish line. And if you want to look at it from a recent performance comparison standpoint you have to go back to 2009 when Summer Bird completed the Belmont in 2:27 2/5 to find a quicker time than Tonalist’s 2:28 2/5 (in fact the last 4 Belmont winners finished in 2:30 2/5 (10 lengths) or more. The win off the layoff in the Peter Pan and follow up in the Belmont is certainly not an unexpected result from brilliant trainer Christophe Clemente.

Furthermore, Tonalist completed his final quarter mile in :25 3/5 seconds compared to…

2013 – Palace Malice—:27 3/5
2012 – Union Rags – :26 2/5
2011 – Ruler On Ice—:25 3/5 (after pressing the pace through a slow mile in 1:39 3/5 compared to Tonalist’s 1:37 1/5)
2010 – Drosselmeyer—:26 2/5
2009 – Summer Bird—:25 1/5

It is also worth noting that, inside the sixteenth pole as Commissioner was digging in on the rail and Medal Count was moving closer through the seam jockey Robbie Albarado found at mid-stretch, Tonalist’s jockey Joel Rosario proved once again why he must be considered one of the top five riders on the national scene as he edged Tonalist inward towards both Medal Count and Commissioner, definitively causing Medal Count to shy just enough to have that one hesitate and more importantly allowing Tonalist to “see” Commissioner on the rail and likely make the difference between the head Tonalist won by and the head he might have lost by.

The bottom line is…the race was without incident. Tonalist was a legitimate contender who might have made all this Triple Crown denied by them owner nonsense and Belmont Stakes as event as opposed to horse race overkill a moot point had he not come down with the lung infection that kept him out of training too late into the spring to compete in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Kudos also go to Todd Pletcher for continuing to believe in the potential of the beautifully bred Commissioner (sired by Belmont winner A.P. Indy by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew out of the Belmont winner Touch Gold mare Flaming Heart) and to Spendthrift farm and trainer Dale Romans. Perhaps Mr. Coburn, who complained about horses “earning” their way into the Triple Crown could reflect for a moment of Medal Count. The son of Dynaformer made his third start in five weeks (the grueling test Coburn made reference to in his Hamlet-like bitter post race soliloquy) in the Kentucky Derby and got perhaps the most compromised trip of all in leg one while Chrome had the most uneventful trip of all. Yes, Medal Count took off the Preakness, but it was still his 4th race in 64 days while counting the Santa Anita Derby and Triple Crown, the Belmont was California Chrome’s 4th race in 63 days. 

One final note. The aforementioned to three finishers in the Belmont are, as described, handled by three of the top breeding and racing outfits in the nation. Mr. Evans and WinStar and Spendthrift have spent countless millions and employ countless hundreds in their contribution to the racing game. Obviously their work bears fruit because those top three Belmont Stakes finishers also happened to be the best “bred for the distance” horses in the race.

In conclusion, the post race commentary should have been a lot more about what Tonalist, Commissioner and Medal Count and their connections accomplished than what California Chrome didn’t. You had a great run Mr. Coburn, you got to wave that store-bought white hat and sign autographs for a much longer period than most people…appreciate the game that gave it to you.

And one last prediction. Foregoing any unfortunate injuries, we’ll more than likely hear much more from Tonalist, Commissioner and Medal Count moving forward than we will from California Chrome. And please don’t take that as disrespect for the Derby and Preakness winner…just consider it as a comment that speaks to the respect for the outfits that breed, train and run these horses for reasons far beyond the three days of the year that are event oriented.


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