Triple Crown reflections

Here's what we learned from the Triple Crown horse racing series.

Chrome's co-owner almost has hat in hand: Steve Coburn -- the California cowboy (that is, a cowboy with a pretty interesting regular job), and the man who suggested that East Coast racing was comprised of gutless wonders -- appeared on ABC bright and early Monday, hat still on his head indoors, groveling and apologizing for having turned sportsmanship into a bad Hollywood sitcom idea. He apologized to everybody but those who bet the farm on Chrome. The co-owner was right about one thing: The Triple Crown run is really hard, three tortuous experiences that a horse will never experience again, a battalion-like field, a two-week turnaround between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, a mile-and-a-half marathon in the Belmont. That the Triple Crown is so hard to win is no reason to change it, to dilute it. The problem with nobody having won the Triple Crown in ages is said to be a result of changes in training. Horses are trained not to run that much anymore; rather they pass through the winner's circle in a couple of big races and proceed to the stud suite. So leave the rules alone and train them better.

Great Triple Crown luck: Overlooked in the Triple Crown gauntlet is the fact that there were no serious injuries. Stories have been written about the brutality of the sport. Chrome got stepped on, but that was about it. In the blessed fortune category, all three races had perfect weather, with monstrous crowds and record betting handles thrown in, and, as usual, fantastic television ratings; the Belmont Stakes caught a double-digit audience share for NBC. The sport has three seasons, the Triple Crown procession in the spring, the Breeder's Cup swarm in Los Angeles in the fall, and the regular-season grind, featuring the cheap stuff running and stumbling year-round at racetracks throughout the sticks and the heartland. All three seasons are successes in their own way. During the regular-season grind, crowds are down and handles are fine because the sport is subsidized by slot-machine addicts; it's better that mom and pop stables get some of the gambling cash rather than casino execs. And it never hurts that somebody like Bob Costas instead of some former producer from the busted cable TV horse-race show "Luck" fronts the Triple Crown coverage on television.

Chrome has bad luck: It's hard to say what caused the rotten positioning during the Belmont race, getting a foot stomped on at the break, or poor jockeying. Chrome was in a dirt storm most of the way around, then wide coming home. Given the slow pace, he should have been right on the lead. Bad luck is like a penalty in a football game. You can't handicap it. Bad luck makes big prices.

Handicapping axioms: The following proved true: All winners have value. You shouldn't let a number on the tote board put you on or take you off a horse. Going from an artificial racing surface to dirt is about the riskiest business that can transpire at the wagering windows. Trendy bets like Wicked Strong in the Belmont Stakes seldom win.

Looks can be deceiving: Clocker reports before the Kentucky Derby had California Chrome looking like a plow horse in need of some shade. Going into the Belmont Stakes, he was said to be picture-perfect. Outside of a limp, about all I know about the body language of a horse is that, in the post parade, if he shakes his head side to side as if to say "no thanks" repeatedly, he could be saying please get me out of here.

Deep closers at the Belmont Stakes: Remember the way Commanding Curve closed at the Kentucky Derby, coming from just inside one of the parking lots to finish a fast-gaining second to Chrome? Remember the way people thought and wrote that the extra distance would greatly aid Commanding Curve in New York? Remember what I said at the time, that throwing your money off a bridge would be a better plan than playing a deep closer at a mile and a half, as a couple of bucks might catch on the bridge railing? Fractions are slow at a mile and a half. Closing a meaningful distance of ground is usually next to impossible.

Where would we be today if Chrome had won the Triple Crown? About the same place we were before.