This is not going to be about Steve Coburn’s immediate remarks after the Belmont, nor his reaffirmation of those comments the following morning, or even about his ultimate apology which came today. Rather this is about the Triple Crown. It seems that racing’s holy grail has come under attack the last few days sparked by the reaction of California Chrome’s loss in the Belmont Stakes. If I was dead, I would be rolling over in my grave right now. The Triple Crown is NOT broken. Far from it. In fact, it is actually thriving. Proof of that came in loud and clear the past few weeks with the great anticipation and excitement that swirled around the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. If it is altered to make things easier, it will lose all value. Those who say different, or who complain that the rules are stacked against a horse winning it, would only ruin something of which horse racing should be proud. Something that only 11 champions in one hundred years were able to accomplish. Winning any of the three is a big accomplishment that should be open to the best three-year-olds of the day. Winning all three is reserved only for those ready to become immortal. Please do not cheapen the accomplishments of great horses like Citation and Secretariat by changing the rules in attempt to make it easier to win. I do not want a Triple Sham. I want to wait for a Triple Crown.
Let’s Celebrate Tonalist
Meanwhile, lost in the aftermath of this year’s Belmont Stakes is Tonalist, and that is a shame. Winning in the Test of the Champion in only your fifth lifetime start is no small feat. Tonalist has been getting better with each and every start, and I consider him a very deserving winner of the third leg of the Triple Crown series. Let’s not forget, just a month ago, he had never even run in a stakes race. Now he’s won two, and is a Classic winner. Certainly he has the breeding to handle anything, and I believe his stock is not done rising. I would love to see him and California Chrome lock horns again somewhere down the road. As for his connections, I have nothing but positive things to say. Both Christophe Clement and Robert Evans are classy individuals who have only made the sport better through their longtime involvement. Evans is dedicated to the game and breeds horses that are meant to go farther than six furlongs. Clement is a true horseman who more than deserves to have his name in the Triple Crown record books. I say bravo Tonalist, Christophe Clement, Robert Evans, and rider Joel Rosario on your exciting win in the Belmont Stakes.
Palace Malice is #1
Watching the top three-year-olds all spring was fun, but if there was any doubt as to who the top dirt horse in America right now is, I believe they were answered loud and clear two races before the Belmont. Palace Malice has moved seamlessly from a promising juvenile, to one of the best sophomores in the land, and now finally, as a four-year-old, the son of Curlin has climbed to the top of the heap. His first three races of the year, in Florida, Louisiana, and New York, were all impressive, but in the Met Mile he proved how good he really is. Giving several pounds to the field, the race favorite broke a step slow before moving up steadily on the rail in Saturday’s $1.25 million race. The Belmont winner of last year had to show plenty of tactical speed to stay in touch early, and then when the field straightened out, he needed to wait for room. When just enough room came, you could just see this finely tuned athlete ready to show his superiority over a very good Goldencents. It wasn’t the kind of win where you drop your draw in disbelief, but rather it was the kind of win that only the really good ones can accomplish. He’s not a miler, he’s not a long distance horse, Palace Malice is just one good thoroughbred.
We need more Showdowns like the Phipps
In the one corner you have Beholder. In the other corner you have Princess of Sylmar. And in the third corner you have Close Hatches. Let’s get ready to rumble!!! It may not have been Ali and Frazier, but you get the idea. A showdown between these three excellent fillies is what horse racing is all about … or at least it should be. All three came in with fine form. Combined they were 12-for-12 at the distance. If you weren’t excited about this matchup, you better check yourself for a pulse. In the end it was Close Hatches over Princess of Sylmar in a thrilling finish. Beholder was a step off her very best and finished a close fourth. Close Hatches deserves the title of best older female in the land for now, but I want to see more. In fact, I not only want to see these three beautiful fillies face each other again, but I want to see more really good rivalries in racing. Once upon a time rivalries drove this sport. If you have a really top notch runner, seek out the best to run against. We know you can beat up on the lesser horses, what we all really want to see is the best run against the best. It’s simply more fun that way. I am glad that it was able to happen in the Phipps.
Bayern Scorches the Elmont Earth
If the magnitude of Palace Malice’s victory in the Met Mile bordered on the sublime, the performance of Bayern in the Woody Stephens was like taking a two-by-four squarely to the head. Flashing major league potential in his first two starts, the shining star of Bayern had begun to flicker in a tough three leg series of the Arkansas Derby, Derby Trial, and Preakness. The potential was still there, but it was fair to wonder if the son of Offlee Wild was going to be just another hotshot who failed to deliver on the big stage. Well, they say if you can make it in New York, you can make it just about anywhere, and Bayern took to the Big Apple with more force than Vito Corleone. In a field swimming with fast three-year-olds, Bayern took it to them in a big way, and just past a minute and twenty seconds after the opening bell, a new star was reborn. Whether you look at the margin of victory (7 ½ lengths), the final time (1:20.75), or the amount of good horses (12) that he dusted, this was a huge performance. You cannot also help but like the way he did it, as well. ZATT’s Star of the Week went right after blazing fractions, and was then eyeballed by one of the more talented sophomores in the nation, in Social Inclusion, before streaking away down the Belmont Park stretch. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
Plenty of Belmont Day Stars
The list of big winners on Belmont Stakes was long, but I would be remiss in not mentioning a trio of runners who bounced back in impressive fashion. Early in the card, it was Kid Cruz thoroughly dominating the field in the Easy Goer Stakes. Granted it was not the most accomplished of fields, but still the son of Lemon Drop Kid showed me enough to believe that the Preakness was an aberration. For whatever reason, the Linda Rice charge did not lift a hoof that day, but I am right back to believing that he has a nice future after seeing him in person on Saturday. I would have to say the same about Real Solution, as well. After wondering if he would ever actually finish first in a U.S. race, the adjudged winner of last year’s Arlington Million finally accomplished what so many had been waiting for since his first race on American turf more than a year ago. The powerful victory in the one million dollar, Grade 1 Manhattan, against a solid field, goes a long way in confirming his place among the best grass horses in the nation. I look forward to seeing him back in Chicago for an attempt at defending his Million title. Last, but certainly not least, was my play of the weekend, Sweet Reason. Back at her game of rallying into strong fractions in a one-turn race, I expected the Grade 1 Acorn to be a perfect spot for her to gain her first stakes win since last summer’s Spinaway. Sure enough she did that at odds of 9-1. A good pace scenario is one thing, but Sweet Reason had to have the class to pull it off. Steady improvement along the rail, before being yanked outside for clear sailing in the stretch was all she needed to once again prove that she is a grade one filly.