by Derek Simon
Mere moments after Tonalist thwarted California Chrome’s quest to become the 12th Triple Crown champion in thoroughbred racing history, Steve Coburn, one of the colt’s owners, blasted the Belmont Stakes winner.
“It’s all or nothing,” Coburn said. “… It’s not fair to these other horses that have been running their guts out for these people and for the people who believe in them. This is the coward’s way out in my opinion. This is a coward’s way out.”
Of course, Coburn was parroting the widespread belief that Tonalist had an advantage over Chrome because the former was “rested”, whereas the latter had been through the “rigors” of the Triple Crown chase.
Hogwash. Hooey. Hokum.
There is, perhaps, no greater lie in the Sport of Kings — and that’s saying something — than the notion that racing on a consistent basis is detrimental to a horse’s health. It’s kind of like claiming that regular exercise is harmful to humans.
Since at least 1970 (my bloodshot eyes prevented me from going back any further), every winner of the Belmont Stakes had raced within the past 36 days. Every single one. And prior to Tonalist, who hadn’t raced much, period (he came into the Belmont with just four lifetime starts), the last horse to break up a Triple Crown bid was Da’ Tara, who had started three times in the past 70 days — exactly the same number of starts as Big Brown made during that time… oh, and Da’ Tara’s last race came on the same day, at the same track, as Brown’s too.
Nearly three decades earlier, on June 9, 1979, Coastal made his second start in 27 days a memorable one, as he defeated the “fresh” Spectacular Bid, who was making his second start in 35 days, in the Belmont Stakes.
Three years after that, Woody Stephens began his amazing five-year run of Big Apple glory with Conquistador Cielo, a colt who was coming back on five days rest and who was making his fourth start in 28 days in in the 1982 Test of the Champion.
Conquistador Cielo won by 14 lengths in what, from a pace standpoint, was one of the most impressive Belmont Stakes wins ever.