We’re all gamblers – in some respect. Horse racing simply
amplifies the causality of putting your bets on something, anything. Pursuing a
new career, catching the eye of one potential lover over another will provide
similar consequences, too many unseen paths converging or not. At the
track it only takes about 30 minutes in between races before you realize
monetary pay outs or money lost on each gamble.
Triumph takes risk-taking, a willingness to lose. These ideas of
winning and losing usually exist within the private of our homes, our minds. By
betting among the masses at the track those personal boundaries are exposed as
bettors collectively create the odds and the pools, from which all bets are
paid out. Thus, losers pay the winners. (The racetrack is merely the conduit
and the host taking percentages of all pools for their services.)
Whether at home clicking online, to bet through an advance wagering
account, or handing over your money to a mutuel clerk on track, bettors
participate in a public process. As with all professional sports, the
horses, trainers, jockeys and owners participate in a their own open-air
theater. The spotlight shines on them in ways that most bettors will never know
or realize. This symbiotic dance relies on cunning and faith from each to the
other, feelings shared, but rarely understood.
Reality’s glare in tearing up a losing $10 Win ticket or your
horse missing the winner's share of a $1 million purse by a nose renders the heart just a little
weaker, the soul a little more bitter. Since winning percentages in racing are
shockingly low, for even the best in the business, losing assimilates, far more
than it accumulates. It happens, it hurts; you move on, hopefully some lesson
Just like every other track on every other race day, each Belmont Stakes Day race had it’s own individual winner’s story, leaving a wake of
losers to reconsider their plans, search for what was missed. Unfortunately,
one half of Dumb Ass Partners, owners of Triple Crown aspirant, California Chrome, delivered such a hurt – loud, clear and publicly. It was the bettor’s
lament magnified in that bigger than life, New York City way.
Sadly, Steve Coburn’s loss was that of owning the rarity, a winner
of two of the Triple Crown races. While California Chrome fell short of the
sweep, those winning the first two legs number only 34, with 11 completing the
triple. Since Sir Barton first took the series in 1919, millions upon millions
of Thoroughbreds have been bred in America.
The odds of anyone having such good fortune breeding a Kentucky Derby winner, well, they are breathtakingly high. Given Dumb Ass bred their
history-making colt on their first try and on the cheap, it would be equivalent
of cashing their first lottery ticket purchase ever, after finding loose change in the
sofa cushions. It was too easy, not enough toughening of the skin through
bone-crushing defeats and for that Coburn’s loss stung more than usual in the
Yes, the closer your grasp of the Holy Grail, the more the want.
Nobody likes to lose, especially when Broadway lights or history books await.
Here is the conundrum of horse racing and our times – winning is
hard, losing sucks and each costs something. Time, effort, energy and luck
usually combine for the win. Losing, it can come from everywhere and include
everything like a fellow competitor stepping on your hoof.
For Coburn it was foolish pride thinking he was owed something for
coming so close or following flawed logic that only he understood. There is no
requirement for horses to run in all three Triple Crown races, nor should such
a rule exist.
From Golden Gate Fields to Belmont Park, horses join the racing fray
when their trainers or owners see fit. The fact that Tonalist won the Belmont
Stakes in only his fifth lifetime start says more about his athleticism and his
trainer Christophe Clement’s horsemanship than the horse’s absence in both the
Preakness or Kentucky Derby does.
The fastest horse to the finish line, wins. This does not mean the
best, whether in the bloodlines coursing through veins, recent performances
given or the story lines behind human connections. Now,
California Chrome did not win, and we’ll wait until next year’s Preakness
Stakes to find our next would-be champions and tragic figures hoping to finish
first two more times after a Kentucky Derby win. There will be no guarantee,
even though American horse racing holds out hope for a true hero to
materialize through 12 grueling furlongs.
The Belmont Stakes coined The Test of Champions did just that on
Saturday and one emerged, Tonalist, amazingly surging to the front in the final
yards of the race. In victory, Clement’s adoration of California Chrome was
refreshing and humbling. Too bad Coburn’s shrill voice was the one paid most of
the attention in losing.