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HRN Original Blog:
Toasting with Andrew Champagne

Belmont Day: A Study In Contrasts

 

I purposely waited a few days to speak my piece on the 2014 Belmont Stakes. A few days would make things a little clearer, I thought, and it was better to wait and type out a measured response to California Chrome’s failed Triple Crown quest than to submit something instantly (are you listening, Steve Coburn?).

In watching the Belmont from the Long Island Railroad platform near the far turn, it sure looked like we’d see history once the field turned for home. Victor Espinoza had begun to ask California Chrome for his run, one we’d seen in every prior start this season. At first, the modestly-bred 3-year-old pinned his ears back and dug down, but in mid-stretch, it became clear that the late kick wasn’t coming.

Maybe it was the 12-furlong distance. Maybe Matterhorn ruined all chance of a Triple Crown winner at the start, when he collided with California Chrome. Maybe it was the ghosts of Affirmed and the other Triple Crown winners handing down a fateful judgment, slowly shaking their heads as if to say, “Not yet.”

California Chrome returned to Los Alamitos and will likely get the long break he deserves. Maybe he’ll be back for the Pacific Classic, or perhaps the connections will wait for the Awesome Again at Santa Anita this fall. At any rate, he deserves a chance to rest up before coming back to tackle the likes of Palace Malice, Mucho Macho Man, and Game On Dude later in the year, and that’s exactly what he’s getting.

However, in finding reasons for excusing California Chrome’s loss, let’s not forget how well Tonalist ran in victory. The Peter Pan winner broke from an outside post and was wide most of the way, yet still had just enough left to win a head-bob over hard-luck loser Commissioner. With California Chrome headed west for the rest of the season, Tonalist is certainly the horse to beat in the major New York 3-year-old races this summer.

Don’t discount Commissioner, either. The son of A.P. Indy showed a new running style Saturday at Belmont in going straight to the lead. He nearly wired the field, and he showed that races run at a mile and a quarter should not be a problem. Oddly enough, though, the race he may have wanted most this year, given his all-distance pedigree, is the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, which was, of course, cancelled.

Unfortunately, what may have been one of the greatest days of racing in the history of Belmont Park was marred by a series of post-race nightmares. Coburn’s media follies have already been discussed elsewhere, and won’t be repeated here. Dale Romans and Mike Maker were at each other’s throats over General a Rod’s late arrival to the Belmont paddock, and transportation-related issues left many race-goers confined to their cars as NYRA personnel tried, and failed, to funnel traffic certain ways. Additionally, public transportation had its own major problems, culminating with the well-documented failures of the LIRR after racing had concluded.

The numbers will show that the day was a staggering success for Belmont Park. Handle surged to north of $150 million, while attendance totaled more than 102,000 people. The good news is that Saturday showed racing can still captivate the public, and undercard performances by the likes of Palace Malice and Bayern may have given those horses more of a following going forward.


However, once California Chrome fell short in the Belmont, the day went south, and quickly. More than one postmortem has cited first-time track-goers who said they would not return after the late-day chaos, playing into horse racing’s image as a game that struggles to attract and keep new fans. Coburn’s antics after the race made him look like the sorest loser imaginable, and despite the best efforts of Victor Espinoza and the Sherman family (who had all been pictures of class throughout the Triple Crown trail), that may affect how we remember California Chrome.


Once again, we looked to a horse for heroism, thinking that THIS one would be the one to end the Triple Crown drought. What we got was a fantastic day of racing, but without the payoff that many thought was a cinch. We were disappointed, but this time, it wasn’t just because of the horse, one who showed a ton of heart persevering through injury to even have a chance at winning when the field turned for home.

This game may need a Triple Crown winner. Even more so, though, it needs to stop shooting itself in the foot with public relations disasters like the ones we saw this past weekend. If racing is to regain relevance among the casual sports fan more than a few times every year, conscious efforts needs to be made across the board.

Saturday showed what horse racing could still be in the eyes of a country that loves feel-good stories. Unfortunately, it also showed why negative perceptions about this great game exist, ones that need to disappear immediately if racing is to thrive.

 

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Older Comments about Belmont Day: A Study In Contrasts...

This is a better written piece than some of the other Belmont post-race articles that are out there, but don't you get it? Don't you understand that those of us (especially those of us brand new to horse racing) can kind of get Steve Coburn's hurt and frustration (followed by his apology), but what we don't understand is the harshness by which most, if not all, the racing journalist seem to be judging this whole situation. To me, brand new to horse racing (fell head-over-heels in love with California Chrome), I am more turned off by that kind of behavior, than Steve Coburn's frustrated and hurt response immediately after losing.
  • cathi929 · I agree with you on this article and your comments. I also was PO'd at a NBC commentator blaming the loss all on Victor Espinoza. I heard the other commentator telling him that was all wrong, totally disagreed with that statement. I have said this a thousand times, California Chrome is a GREAT horse and nothing, nothing can take that away ever, TC or not. he still has it hands down. · 189 days ago
In Horse Racing just like life, nothing is ever certain. I am and always will be a Ca Chrome fan. It was sad that we didn't get the thrill of a TC. The more important issue is to remember just that, He is a GREAT Horse win or loose. We have gotten thrills beyond from watching him..
Nothing Steve Coburn said or did will affect the way most of us remember California Chrome. All the horse did was run his guts out. He had nothing to do with Mr. Coburn's intemperate remarks. Like someone stated, Mr. Coburn is too new to the game to be very familiar with how races usually turn out. To have a horse like California Chrome is very rare indeed, and it probably won't happen again in Mr. Coburn's horse-owning lifetime.
  • cathi929 · I agree that nothing Mr. Coburn said will take away how we view and feel about Junior. He is a GREAT racehorse and that is where it is. However I am glad I got to see the apology to everyone from Steve Coburn. · 189 days ago
  • cathi929 · I agree that nothing Mr. Coburn said will take away how we view and feel about Junior. He is a GREAT racehorse and that is where it is. However I am glad I got to see the apology to everyone from Steve Coburn. · 189 days ago
I enjoyed the day. I would definitely go back. We did have a hard time getting back to the car afterwards and most of the hired security had no idea how to find out parking lot. Fun day, but obviously wish Curve had done better. Oh we'll, it's a horse race. It was a nice day overall.
johnston 7641 - you've hit the nail on the head. Congrats to you for getting it. Don't give a rat's a.. what he said. Hell, Woody Stephens said more things worse than what Mr. Coburn ever said. Over at BH, at certain author penned six paragraphs and over 1,000 words making Mr. Coburn a racing pariah. For God sakes move on. California Chrome, as I suspect, will return to the races. In the meantime, get ready for the summer shows of Del Mar and Saratoga.
anyone at belmont park who you got in race 3 im thinking of putting cash down? Anybody like the 6 horse trained by zito? im a bum dont have a daily racing form
Nice post Andrew. Public relations seems to be a problem that most tracks don't seem to think necessary these days. As for racing dying, it might be as a spectator sport where people actually attend the races, but with the huge betting opportunities made possible by the internet I would think that it is more popular than most people think.
Andy how was the Belt when you left,and was the VZ Bridge backed up??
Well said, Andrew! LIRR mess was inevitable when you think about the fact that 16 trains came in and there is no way at that small BEL platform that more than 1 or 2 trains would load and leave at a time.
Great article. Too much unknown on what cause chrome not to fired like he normally does(tired, quarter grab, kick back to the face, not being the outside stalking position?) Will all that when on with him, he still ran his heart out to only loose by 1 3/4 lengths. He is head over heel over that field if the ever to reach up again. Honestly, if that place had a couple thousand more people, all hell would have break loose. There wasn't any more room, I couldn't even move to place a bet an hour before the Belmont Stakes. I think it was a great turn out, it would be great if the have an infield to accommodate more people. I had no issue getting out, I waited until the last race was run and then leave. However, the LIRR was a freaking mess, thank god Tom tell me to avoid that mode of transportation.
Horse racing is the ultimate Reality Show on TV. It is NOT compatible with good PR> IT is what is is and you can't spin it. Horses break down and die on the track. Jockys are carted away on strechers and everybody has an opinion and expresses it. The truth is there for all to see and can't be candy coated. If you don
I give you credit for your wisdom in leaving the track early and watching the race from the LIRR platform. I am sure that you were on one of the first out and skipped the craziness. I left about 2 hours earlier after the Met,and watched from the comforts of my home. The LIRR was a nightmare,similar to the warnings i gave fans in advance and compared it to the last Super Bowl in NJ. AAs far as the crowd of 102.000. As i stated it was dissapointing. If there was not a TC hopeful on the line to draw a majority of the crowd. The so called greatest live racing card ever assembled(outside of a BC) would of drawn only about 50,000 fans. That is not NYRA or anyone elses fault on this day. They went out of their way to promote and welcome the non racing fan. They did it at the expense of not paying attention to many other details. But te poor attendance is a reflection of how badly the game has been promoted over the past 20 years or so. They never developed a gambling base. They only tried to attract the fans who show up for these events only. The ones that are truly more of a nuisance than an asset.

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Meet Andrew Champagne

 

A native of upstate New York and a graduate of Ithaca College, Andrew Champagne fell in love with horse racing at a very early age on summer trips to Saratoga. His turf writing credits include time spent as a sportswriter, weekly columnist, and handicapper at The Saratogian, a summer working for The Saratoga Special, and "field research" at OTB facilities in Saratoga Springs and his hometown of Kingston. He also spent two years in the athletic communications office at Siena College, and interned with NBC Olympics at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.


Andrew moved to Pasadena, Calif., in October of 2013, and now serves as an Associate Producer in HRTV's Digital Media department and Horse Racing Nation's Southern California writer. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewChampagne, and email him at andrewdchampagne@gmail.com.