John Clay: Change the rules and it's no longer the Triple Crown

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 8, 2014 

OK, Steve Coburn, let's change the entire Triple Crown.

Let's continue running the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, but let's push the Preakness back to July and run the Belmont in September. That's plenty of time between races for the 3-year-olds get their rest.

Let's grant your wish and restrict the entrants for all three classics to the 20 horses qualified to run in the Kentucky Derby in the first place.

Then surely the same horse will win the Derby, the Belmont and the Preakness in the same year.

Problem is, that horse will not have won the Triple Crown.

Not the Triple Crown as we've known it, not the one Coburn's California Chrome tried valiantly to win Saturday, even after injuring his front left foot, only to lose the Belmont Stakes, prompting Chrome's co-owner to issue a less-than-gracious post-race blast of the entire system.

"(It should be) if you don't make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can't run in the other two races," Coburn said before the NBC cameras. "It's all or nothing because this is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people who believe in them. This is a coward's way out, in my opinion."

Coburn even told Yahoo Sports the connections behind horses such as Tonalist, the Belmont winner who did not run in the Derby or the Preakness, were "cheaters."

For those who missed it Saturday, Coburn repeated his rant to ABC's "Good Morning America" and ESPN on Sunday, with an offensive kicker.

"These people nominate their horses for the Triple Crown and then they hold out two (races) and then come back and run one," Coburn said. "That would be like me at 6-2 playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair."

(That sigh of relief you just heard was from the folks at Churchill Downs, which Coburn ripped after winning the Preakness.)

Maybe Coburn needs to spend a less time pontificating and a more time reading. I would suggest a book on the history of the Triple Crown.

There, Coburn might find this fun fact: When Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, he faced four horses in the Preakness that had not run in the Derby.

Affirmed faced two horses in the Belmont that skipped the Preakness, one of which didn't run in the Derby either. The coward.

Affirmed captured the Belmont Stakes anyway, beating Alydar in one of the great Triple Crown races of all time.

For the record: Alydar had finished second to Affirmed in both the Derby and Preakness, as well.

That's what made Affirmed a great Thoroughbred — our last Triple Crown winner — while California Chrome will go down as a very good Thoroughbred.

So here we go again. Thirty-seven years without a Triple Crown winner means the red-faced man in the cowboy hat won't be only one calling for a change.

So sure, go ahead and change all you want.

Change the dates. That would be the ultimate admission today's thoroughbreds aren't tough enough to handle the stress of three races in five weeks.

It's strange that in every other sport the athletes are stronger, faster and more fit — except horse racing.

Change the requirements. Implement the "Coburn Rule" that only horses that run in the Derby and Preakness are allowed to run in the Belmont.

Just be warned that under that scenario, there would not have been a Belmont in 2006 or 2010 and Optimizer would have won in 2012 since he would have been the only horse in the race.

Never mind that.

Go ahead and make whatever changes are necessary to ensure somebody, anybody wins the nation's three most viewed races so the sport can finally crown its superhorse.

Just don't call it the Triple Crown.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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