The 2015 Belmont shapes up as Good vs. Evil and we have Steve Coburn to thank.
The "Good" is American Pharoah, the star-studded 3-year-old who proved in both the Kentucky Derby and especially the Preakness that he is good to the last (rain) drop.
Pharoah wasn't even on top of his game for the first Saturday in May and still won the Run for the Roses in Louisville. Then Saturday, in the midst of driving rain, howling wind and random lightning strikes, Pharoah thundered down the Pimlico track to a decisive 7-length victory.
The "Evil" is represented by all those "cowards" — the term California Chrome's co-owner Steve Coburn used from last year — who sat out the first or second or both of the first two Triple Crown races in favor of fresh legs for the grueling mile-and-a-half run that is the third leg, the Belmont Stakes on June 6.
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Coburn brought attention to the conundrum with his red-faced rant after last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner finished fourth in the Belmont.
My favorite part of that brilliant piece of live television continues to be when Mrs. Coburn, standing behind her husband, kept trying to get Big Steve to, well, shut up.
Finally, Coburn turned around to his wife and bellowed, "I don't care!"
For all of Coburn's sour grapes and subsequent apologies, the man in the cowboy hat had a point. Last year's Belmont winner, Tonalist, didn't run in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness and then ran past his weary colleagues to claim the biggest Belmont check.
"It's not fair to these horses," Coburn complained.
This is not a new phenomenon, of course. Back in 2003, after a second-place finish to Funny Cide in the Derby, trainer Bobby Frankel skipped the Preakness and then ran away with the Belmont. (Though to be fair, if not for a foot problem, his Empire Maker would have won the Derby.)
In 2004, Birdstone ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby, sat out the Preakness, then passed the popular but tiring Smarty Jones in the stretch to break America's heart at the Belmont.
"I'm sorry that Smarty Jones didn't win," said Birdstone's owner Marylou Whitney afterward.
There's no rule that says horses must compete in the first two legs to be eligible for the third. And in three weeks there will be plenty ready to take advantage again of that loophole.
Chief among them will be Todd Pletcher, the sport's most successful trainer, except on Derby day when he has entered 43 horses with just one victory.
Pletcher is no fan of the Preakness. He likes to allow his horses long layoffs, a strategy that doesn't jibe with the brief two-week break between the first and second legs of the Triple Crown.
It works perfectly, however, with the five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. So look for Materiality (sixth in the Derby), Carpe Diem (10th) and Madefromlucky (Peter Pan Stakes winner on May 9) to come out of Pletcher's barn for the Belmont.
And then there's Frosted, who ran fourth in the Derby, just behind third-place finisher Dortmund. Trained by Lexington native Kiaran McLaughlin, Frosted won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York before coming to Churchill. He'll try and score a Big Apple double by winning the Belmont.
"I know everybody right now is sharpening their knives getting ready," Bob Baffert, American Pharoah's trainer, said Saturday during the post-Preakness press conference.
Pharoah's owner Ahmed Zayat quickly interjected, "Bring it on."
Then Zayat laughed.
If a rested contender spoils yet another Triple Crown bid, racing won't be laughing.