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Obnoxious Boston Fan

Sore Loser Takes Shine Off Chrome, Belmont Stakes

Tonalist won the 146th Belmont Stakes Saturday.

But Tonalist skipped the Preakness. so we're stuck talking about the co-owner of the horse that finished tied for fourth with Wicked Strong.

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The post-race outburst by California Chrome co-owner Steve Colburn that not only stole Tonalist's thunder but put the final touches on the destruction of what promised to be one of the best days in horse racing since Affirmed beat Alydar in the Belmont Stakes for the last Triple Crown in 1978.
Since California Chrome's victory in the Preakness on May 17, Colburn and his Dumb Ass Partner racing team have been portrayed as the hero of the every-man. The story of how they purchased the mare that gave birth to California Chrome for a mere $8,000 followed by a $2,000 stud fee had become the quick stuff of horse racing legend.

Colburn and co-owner Perry Martin were offered $6 million for 51 percent controlling interest in Chrome after its victory in the April 5 Santa Anita Derby. But they famously turned down the offer.

Colburn came off in his pre-Belmont, seemingly non-stop TV interviews, as an all-knowing, wise-cracking, worldly, dead-ringer for Wilford Brimley. After all, his horse had won its past two Triple Crown races by 27 1/2 lengths. Colburn was the "average Joe" who was going to hood-wink all those rich phones who dabble in the ponies in between their first-class ocean trips around the world. The narrative presented by those media types who don't know the difference between win, place or show was insulting to the thousands of breeders, trainers, riders, jockeys and others who labor throughout the thoroughbred industry.

Then Colburn's horse finished fourth Saturday, in a dead heat with Wicked Strong, the three-year-old colt out of Centennial Farms in Beverly, Mass.

As my son so brilliantly put it, "Colburn sounded much nicer when he was winning."

Instead, all we got was whining.

"It's all or nothing. It's all or nothing. Because this is not fair to these horses that have been grunting their grunts out for these people, and for the people that believe in them, to have somebody come up. This is the coward’s way out, in my opinion. This is the coward’s way out ... Our horse had a target on its back. Everybody else lays out one, or they won’t run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. They’ll wait ’till the Belmont. You know what, if you've got a horse, run him in all three. If you've got a horse that earns points to run in the Kentucky Derby, those 20 horses that start the Kentucky are the only 20 eligible to run in all three races. This is the coward’s way out."
- Colburn, to NBC's Kenny Rice

"Dumb Ass" now plain ass.

Colburn gets Tommy Points for speaking with candor and emotion. But his substance was insipid. He never said a word about the failed Triple Crown system after his horse won the Derby or Preakness.

No, he was going to stick it to everybody.

Perhaps the powers that be should alter the Triple Crown system. But that's an argument for sometime that's not two minutes after the Belmont with millions of eyes watching. Colburn's cry-baby outburst was classless, bush-league and insulting to every other horse, jockey, trainer, owner who put up their not-so-dumb asses on the line front of the world on Belmont Park's unforgiving 1 1/2-mile course.

Colburn exposed himself as an indignant buffoon who lucked out in horse racing's lottery and didn't know what to do once the sport's realities hit him like it does nearly everyone else. Don't feel too bad for him and Dumb Ass Partners. There are millions to made in fees for California Chrome's, ahem, services in future years. Hopefully, the horse and its future progeny will display more class than Colburn.

The last horse to win the Triple Crown, Affirmed in 1978, beat Alydar in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. In the Belmont, jockey Steve Cauthen and Affirmed beat Alydar again. Of the three other horses in the '78 Belmont, only one had run in Preakness.

In 1977, Seattle Slew wore their Triple Crown. Seattle Slew beat seven other horses in the Belmont, only two had run in Preakness.

Ron Turcotte and Secretariat scared the hell out of everything on four legs by the time Big Red reached reached the Belmont in 1973. That year's Belmont Stakes featured only five horses and barely reached that number of entries. No one wanted to face Secretariat because no other 3-year-old that year had a chance. Of his four opponents in the Belmont, three had not run in the Preakness.

No has ever questioned, with any credibility or sobriety, the legitimacy of the past three Triple Crown winners, all of whom faced "cowards" in the Belmont, according to Colburn's definition, and prevailed. Secretariat won his Belmont by 31 lengths. He set race records in all three Triple Crown events that still stand.

But in Colburn's world, that doesn't count.

California Chrome becomes the 23rd horse to win the Derby and Preakness, but not the Belmont. But we're supposed to blow up the rules now. Get out those asterisks in the name of Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

When the NHL, NBA, NFL and major-league baseball expanded their playoff formats at various times over the years, it may have allowed more teams into the postseason, but it also elongated the playoffs for everyone, including the eventual champions.

Winning the Stanley Cup is a much greater challenge in 2014 than it was in 1914. Well, at least it will be for the New York Rangers.

Now we're supposed to dumb-down a simple prize, horse racing's Triple Crown, first awarded in the United States in 1919, because Colburn's horse finished tied for fourth. In order for a horse to win the Triple Crown, he, she or it must demonstrate the ability to win on three distinct courses in three different states over three different distances in a relatively short period. The length of the races varies from 1 1/4 miles in the Derby, to 1 3/16 miles in the Preakness to 1 1/2 miles in the Belmont. There are issues concerning breeding that make horses today more inclined for speed, opposed for distance and stamina. If owners want a Triple Crown winner, maybe they should start with better horses and not making the Triple Crown just a mere double with a chaser.

Anyone who wins the Triple Crown in baseball, a Grand Slam in tennis or golf, or any team that wins the Super Bowl, the Larry O'Brien trophy, the Stanley Cup or the World Series Cup faces unique circumstances. Do we only count those titles won under perfectly scripted conditions? Under Colburn's formula, the titles won by the Houston Rockets in 1994-95 would not count because Michael Jordan was sort-of retired for part of the time. The Redskins never won Super Bowl XXII because of the 1987 NFL player's strike. Sorry, 2013 Red Sox. You didn't win the World Series because the 2013 Yankees didn't have Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter for 162 games.

There's not enough space on the internet to get into PED-aided championships.

Maybe we can call it the Good-Job-Good-Effort-Participation-Award-Eighth-Place-Trophy-At-Least-You-Tried-No-Dodgeball-Everybody-Is-A-Winner-Sugar-Free Triple Crown.

Colburn's horse was indeed targeted, just like every potential champion in every race or game ever played. Colburn's horse was poorly guided in Saturday's race by Victor Espinoza. The 4-5 favorite was crowded out along the backstretch and never recovered. Much of the money wagered on him was bet in hopes of holding an "uncashed Triple Crown ticket."

One reason why California Chrome drew 10 opponents in this year's Belmont was because was he was considered beatable by those who consider themselves experts. Comcast Sports New England anchor and NBC horse racing analyst Bob Neumeier gave us all Tonalist as the winner before the race when he was 11-1. Tonalist paid $20.20, $9.60 and $7. Commissioner was second and Medal Count ran third.

The story of Wicked Strong has been chronicled well here and elsewhere. Centennial owner Don Little Jr. and his partners agreed to donate one percent of Wicked Strong's earnings to The One Fund. Kim Jacobs, wife of Bruins honcho Charlie Jacobs, named the horse over lunch at a Bruins game.

Before the Triple Crown, Little upped the One Fund's ante to five percent. Wicked Strong won $100,000 for his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and $80,000 for his tied-for-fourth-place finish Saturday. That $9,000 raised the amount of money raised by the horse for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath to $16,046.10.

In Colburn's twisted, bitter world, Wicked Strong remains a coward for not running in the Preakness, a race ill suited for the horse's strengths.

There's very little cowardice in Little's story. Julie Krone guided Colonial Affair out Centennial Farms to victory in the 1993 Belmont. She remains the only female jockey to win a Triple Crown race and that remains the only Triple Crown win in Centennial's history. Ballsy all the way around.

Don Little Sr., Centennial Farms founder, died in a show-jumping fall in 2012. Don Little Jr. was left to guide the company through bankruptcy and restructuring, all the while while undergoing rehab and recovering from a substance abuse issues. Centennial lost its two biggest clients and "80 percent of its business" in the same two-year span.

Despite all those challenges, Little, Centennial Farms and his 27 partners who own a piece of Wicked Strong finished in a dead-heat with California Chrome. And they threw $4,000 to The One Fund in the process.

Not bad for a bunch of cowards.

The OBF Column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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