Kentucky Derby

A California Perspective

I don’t usually write about sports. And yet a sporting event is the springboard or backstop (to mix sports metaphors) for this blog about horse racing’s Triple Crown. I know. The metaphors threw me off track, too. So on to the Belmont Stakes.

Only eleven horses have ever won the Triple Crown, (the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes). The first to achieve this feat was Sir Barton in 1919 and the last was Affirmed in 1978. This year California Chrome stood a good chance, having already won the first two legs, then entering Belmont as the favorite.

As it turned out California Chrome would not strike gold in New York. Yes, I know, another mixed metaphor. Sorry. Most people think it is the nature of competition that somebody wins, somebody loses. But is
not winning the same thing as losing, especially in a race like this where there were eleven contenders, each racing toward the finish line?

If you’re from California, and this may be true for most of the country, the answer is yes. We have been raised in a culture where winning is everything. But what about merely being able to compete? Participating in a sport should be just as important as who wins. Tonalist, a horse bred in Kentucky, finished first in today’s Belmont Stakes. Congratulations. Now what should one say about California Chrome and his bid to end a thirty-six year drought?

Like many of you, I get news alerts on my computer. I was struck by three of them and the different ways that they announced the results. The New York Times posted “Tonalist Wins Belmont Stakes, denying Triple Crown for California Chrome”. On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Times announced “California Chrome loses Triple Crown bid; Tonalist wins Belmont”. And KPCC, the “FM with an IQ” radio station sent out the following: “California Chrome fails to win Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes”.

There’s a lot of money and fame at stake. Scratch that. There’s a lot of money and fame to be won in horse racing, especially when it comes to the Triple Crown. 1978 to 2014 marks the longest drought in the crown’s history. And although racing enthusiasts believe they have waited long enough for another horse to claim the title, they will have to wait at least one more year.

Putting aside the expectations of owners, trainers, experts and the public; putting aside the legitimacy of a horse running in the Belmont that did not also run in the Derby and the Preakness; I find it curious. Should not California Chrome expect better treatment from his home state media? Should he really be called a
loser and a failure? He did, after all, win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness!

Maybe the New York Times had the right idea. Let’s acknowledge and celebrate the winner, but let’s not denigrate those who did not cross the line first. California Chrome, you’re still California gold.

And that’s straight from the horse’s mouth.
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