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Breeders' Cup 2017

Steven Coburn's logic may be "valid," but it's flawed

Over 400 horses were nominated to this year's Triple Crown, a number that, though fluctuating from year to year, remains comparable each year. Once two-years begin racing, that number gradually begins to shrink. Some emerge as legitimate contenders for the G1 Kentucky Derby while others fall short for a variety of reasons. Some show class limitations while others show distance limitations. As the crop progresses from their 2-year old season to their 3-year old season, still others fail to progress, unable to keep up with their peers at 3 after winning graded stakes at 2. Injuries kick in, and all of a sudden that 400+ group is down to about 30-40, a number that is still much too large for all to fit in the starting gate.


The Kentucky Derby is the race everyone wants to win, hence the 400+ nominations to the Triple Crown each year. Because that is the goal for practically everyone with a 3-year old colt, some sort of system had to be implemented to decide in as fair a manner as possible who makes the final 20 and who gets cut. Prior to the 2013 Triple Crown series, that system was based on graded stakes earnings. People became disenchanted with that system as time went on, realizing that 2-year old stakes victories were allowing horses in that hadn't lifted a hoof at all during their 3-year old season while barring slower maturing horses. A points system was then put in place, and while perhaps not perfect, it's puts more emphasis on the 3-year old season, allowing current form to trump out-dated 2-year old form.


Immediately after his colt California Chrome lost the G1 Belmont Stakes and his chance to enter history books as the 12th Triple Crown winner, owner Steven Coburn had a microphone stuck in his face. In what was at least halfway a knee-jerk reaction in the heat of the moment, Coburn called the connections of Belmont winner Tonalist and runner-up Commissioner "cowards" for "taking the easy way out" by jumping into the Triple Crown fray in the last leg after sitting out the first two legs. He went on to grumble about the situation being "unfair" and to opine that if you have to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, then you should have to qualify for the Preakness and Belmont, too. In other words, only the 20 that ran in the Derby should be allowed to run in the Preakness and Belmont.


Steven Coburn fired up the industry with those remarks. Reactions ranged from Camp Sore Loser, those that felt he was ungrateful and bitter, to Camp Valid Points, those that felt he made sense and had a right to say the things that he did. As for myself, I completely disagreed with everything Coburn had to say and felt that he could have done the same thing the other 12 connections of those that lost the Triple Crown since Affirmed won it did, namely tamp down on the knee-jerk reactions and be gracious to the winner. As for his logic concerning who should and should not be be able to race in each leg of the Triple Crown, I find it highly flawed.


Circling back to what I stated earlier, the Kentucky Derby is the race that everyone wants to win. Those that don't win the Derby have no reason to run in 3 hard races in 5 weeks, aside from money or to play spoiler, and so their connections opt to skip one or both races. Historically speaking, the Preakness and Belmont don't draw the same size fields that the Derby does, therefore there's no reason to have a system to decide who runs in those races and who doesn't. Also historically speaking, there have always been fresh horses running, just as there have always been those that run all 3 legs. For every Sham and Alydar, you have a Tonalist and a Summing.


Under Coburn's logic, the Preakness and Belmont fields would only have 3-5 horses running in them, and there's no thrills nor betting opportunities in fields of that size. Additionally, changing the format in any way, whether it be the timing of the races or disallowing fresh horses, would detract from what the first 11 Triple Crown winners accomplished. The Triple Crown is not meant to be easy, and it should take a truly special horse to accomplish the feat, not one that is just average but is capitalizing on designs that make the achievement easier. Life isn't fair, and neither is the Triple Crown. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it should continue to be. Anything else, and winning the Triple Crown is just like winning 3 consecutive races: special, but not uncommon.


Summing  |  Sham  |  Alydar  |  Tonalist  |  Commissioner  |  California Chrome  |  Steve Coburn
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Older Comments about Steven Coburn's logic may be "valid," but it's flawed...

"nder Coburn's logic, the Preakness and Belmont fields would only have 3-5 horses running in them, and there's no thrills nor betting opportunities in fields of that size" HELLO AUTHOR SECRETARIAT AND AFFIRMED RAN AGAINST 4 horses, guess what? They were the LAST TRIPLE CROWN WINNERS of note (oh yeah, seattle slew, one year later)
  • syzygy · Secretariat ran against 5 rivals. Seattle Slew ran the year prior to Affirmed, not the year later. (Last Triple Crown winenrs of note? Are there Triple Crown winners who are not of note?) Anyway. The admittedly short fields faced by Secretariat and Affirmed are because theose fields included Sham and Alydar, both plenty intimdiating in their own right. Horsemen figured they were running for 3rd. Few years are going to have two horses that outstanding. And all 3 of the 70's TC winners faced new shooters in both the Preakness and the Belmont. · 1221 days ago
You're right on Ashley. Regarding the comment about Secretariat and Affirmed running against only 4 other horses, what does that have to do with anything? That was not because there was any silly rule preventing newcomers from entering the race. It was simply because those were the only ones who dared challenge them. California Chrome scared no one.
  • syzygy · Secretariat faced five, actually. The very short fields in '73 and '78 were likely because most everyone figured they'd be running for 3rd place. Sham and Alydar wer outstanding horses themselves. I know both Canonero II (my first favorite horse) and all-time great Spectacular Bid lost to new shooters in the Belmont. Don't know abou the first 8 Triple Crown winners, but the three in the 70's all faced new horses in the Preakness and the Belmont. Slew faced 6 new horses in the Preakness, including Cormorant, who was coing off a 7-race winning streak, and English 2-yr-old champ J.O. Tobin, who in the Swaps would hand Slew his first defeat. Like you, I don't want the rules watered down by restricting entries in the second two races. · 1221 days ago
Interesting read but his conclusions as to the point system leaving only four or five to compete at the Belmont serves no purpose as one of the readers posted that the last two Triple Crown Winners faced four rivals in their Belmont Stakes. It renders his assumption to be moot in that case. Personally I would favor the point system using the top forty in points to be eligible for the Preakness and Belmont. Highest points get into the race. Horses that compete in the Triple Crown races also gain points based on the Derby point system thus attracting more of those that race earlier to continue on.
  • syzygy · The prior poster's facts are not correct. Secretariat ('73) faced 5 rivals in the Belmont. Seattle Slew ('77) faced 7. Affirmed ('78) did face 4. Spectacular Bid lost his Triple Crown shot to new shooter Coastal in a field of 8. The short fields of '73 and '78 are amost certainly because entires were facing not one but two dominant horses - both Sham and Alydar were intimidating in their own right. All four of those '70s greats faced news horses in both the Preakness and the Belmont. · 1221 days ago
So 2 weeks would seem adequate. The Preakness is an easier race than the Derby. A bit shorter in distance and a lot shorter in entrants. Let's suppose California Chrome was in fact "tired." Was it because of running 3 G1 races in 5 weeks, or could it be because this year he ran 7 stakes races with a 3-week average span between them?
Blueyedhusky. Until Citation, the spacing between the Derby and Preakness was a week or less. From Citation on it was 2weeks between Derby and Preakness except for 3 editions where for Native Dancer 21 days and it also went back to one week for some of the other renewals.
The suggestion that entry to the Preakness and Belmont be restricted to Derby starters is utterly absurd and doesn't deserve to be paid any mind. On the other hand, increasing the spacing between races, maybe. But which ones and by how much? Between the Derby and Preakness? It probably hasn't always been 2 weeks, but it has for a very long time. That's not where the problem seems to lie, however. Many horses have accomplished the Derby-Preakness double. Since the Belmont is the toughest race, and the one in which many potential TC winners seem to run out of gas, an extra week should help, and it's not so great a difference from the past that it would diminish the accomplishment. But, really, we've had many near misses in the last 20 years, so why should we try to make it any easier? Near misses and heartbreak are an integral part of horse racing. You miss a million-dollar pick-6 by a nose, a horse misses greatness by the same margin.
URR. Thanks. There seem to be two issues being expressed with the TC. One is prohibiting horses that skip one or more of the TC races. The other is the time frame. The former, if changed, would harm the integrity of the TC. The latter, if horses are given a week more between the Derby and Preakness, I don't think is as much an issue. Giving more time, I think harms the summer and fall racing season. The issue really seems to be how to get more Derby starters into the Preakness. I think the extra week and or a financial incentive might work too.
Buckpasser, GREAT comment. Loved reading it. I think they should throw one more week in between the Preakness and Derby and take one away from the Preakness to Belmont. That would be perfect and make eveything balanced, therefore attracting more Preakness runners than Belmont runners. I think going back to the almost old way would be just great, adn I'd be perfectly happy if they went back to the way Omaha won it. It would be a lot better to wheel back a week, then get a month. I think that it would actually help the horses, and still honor those before, while keeping it a 5 week run.
IT IS a SERIES in the fact that you are entered for one you theoretically can go in all three
I think changing the format and not allowing fresh horses in the race would cheapen the accomplishment of winning the TC. But allowing more time between the races, I don't think would. And I only say this after looking at the gaps in the races for all the previous TC winners. Sir Barton won the Derby on 5-10 and captured the Preakness on 5-14. His Belmont was on 6-11 (should be noted it was a different distance than the 1 1/2 miles). Gallant Fox won the Preakness on 5-9 and then the Derby on 5-17. His Belmont was on 6-7. Omaha won the Derby on 5-4 and the Preakness on 5-11 and the Belmont on 6-8. War Admiral won the Derby on 5-8 and the Preakness on 5-15 and the Belmont on 6-5. Whirlaway won the Derby on 5-3 and the Preakness on 5-10 and the Belmont on 6-7. Count Fleet won the Derby on 5-1 and the Preakness on 5-8 and the Belmont on 6-5. Assault won the Derby on 5-4 and the Preakness 5-11 and the Belmont on 6-1. Citation won the Derby on 5-1 and the Preakness on 5-15 and the Belmont on 6-12. Secretariat won the Derby on 5-5 and the Preakness on 5-19 and the Belmont on 6-9. Seattle Slew won the Derby on 5-7 and the Preakness on 5-21 and the Belmont on 6-11. Affirmed won the Derby on 5-6 and the Preakness on 5-20 and the Belmont on 6-10. My reason for quoting all of this is to show that the time frame has fluctuated. In many cases there was only a week or even less between the Derby and Preakness. There appears to be the longest amount of time usually between the Preakness and the Belmont. While I am a traditionalist, looking at these figures, I cannot think that giving some more time between the Derby and Preakness will so harm the TC. I realize Secretariat, Seattle Slew, affirmed and Citation had more time between the Derby and Preakness than say Gallant Fox or Omaha or War Admiral and I doubt anyone would say that they were any less a TC winner than these earlier horses. ( all these dates came from the Derby, Preakness and Belmont media guides)
Well done, Ashley! I believe one of the common misconceptions to the casual fan is the Triple Crown is a "series," implying the races are connected to each other, when in fact they are not and never meant to be. It's extremely hard to win all three and only the best of the best can accomplish the feat. California Chrome fell short of his goal but he is still a great horse who won 2 of the Classic races for 3 year olds. He ran his heart out in the Belmont, and that makes him a winner to me.
The 100th anniversary of the Derby was 1974 when Cannonade won. The Chyrsler bonus came about because the head of the company was a thoroughbred owner too.
Also Chrysler sponsored the TC bonus from the 1980's, I believe they started in either 1986 or 1987 because of horses skipping the Preakness and going to the Belmont and also to get more visibility for the TC. The Visa sponsorship went from 1996 (after Chyrsler ended their sponsorship) and ran until 2005.
The 100th anniversary created the largest field when 23 ran, but 100th anniversary did not create the First 20 horse field. Quick count shows 9 editions of 20 or more horses. There were many more with 16 or more. One of the things that made the Derby etc. more popular in the 80's and on was the large breeding contracts that took off in this period. A small point about the anniversary runnings of the Derby is that the trophy was a bit more valuable. For instance the 75th Anniversary trophy won by Ponder was not only solid gold but studded with diamonds which made it one of the most valuable trophies for that reason. This trophy is on display at the Kentucky Horse Park.
I don't know if anyone truly understands this because I've not seen many that expressed they have. The triple crown was not as lucrative until the '80's when the 100 year anniversary of the derby made the first 20 horse field, and Visa began the TC challenge. When Visa stopped the TC challenge, I thought there wouldn't be as much focus on preventing winners, but it has seemed just as prevalent without the bonus. The same was experienced in the 25 years leading up to Secretariat's TC, where more emphasis was placed on the series so it seemed no one else would accomplish the feat again. Good things come to those who wait. It's just a matter of time before the right horse comes around!
This has been a classic case of over reaction. Guy was wrong but had a point. Sure we are supposed to make nice when we lose but it's not a crime to be bitter. It's 3 group 1 races not a tournament. Cirrus des Aigles just won 3 in 6 weeks. It's a notable achievement but not the focus on it is just a narrative after the Derby.
Agree!Good job,Florida fillY!!
i agree with coburn's comments 1000%.
  • virgil · which tradition don't you want changed? 1- the points system where you have to qualify for the first race, but not the next two? Or the 2- the change in system from graded stankes or 3- the change in system to earnings 4- the distances in the races, that were changed or 5- the time between races, which were changed in the past or 6- the fact that secretariat ran againat 4 horses in belmont or 7- fact that affirmed rand against only 5 horse in belmont or 8 fact that 20 horses start in the DERBY is the norm now, relative to the past you traditionalists know, as Ygritte tells Jon Snow all the time "you know nothing" · 1226 days ago

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