Monday, June 9, 2014

How California Chrome Got Rooked – And Why The Triple Crown Is A Farce

All right, so I don’t usually follow horse racing, at least since I lived in Hialeah, FL in the 1950s, and saw some thoroughbreds put through their paces. But I have been interested in ‘California Chrome’ and the filly’s chase of the Triple Crown.  As many have pointed out , however, the Triple Crown has mutated into a farce ever since the rules were changed so that horses didn’t have to compete in each race of the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes).

 Now, this is where I draw the line, as much or more than when the green eyeshade types fudged  the DOW in the 1990s. “Green eyeshade types" (which could be applied to all those who game systems for money) is not my unique term – it was first used by Baltimore Sun writer Jay Hancock, when he noted ('Dow Index Detaches from Reality', The Baltimore Sun, April 4, 1999, p. 1E):

A committee of green eyeshade types juiced the lineup, blackballing four down-at-heel Dow members and picking ringers as replacements. Out went Bethlehem Steel, Woolworth, Texaco and Westinghouse. In came Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, Hewlett-Packard and Travelers. One -eighth of the Dow membership changed that day, but you'd never know it from looking at those mountainous Dow graphs....Without the switch, by my calculation, the Dow would have been near 9,000 last week. Not 10,000.

So what is this shit now with altering venerable rules on a whim? How much has our nation been degraded and fooled since this macabre habit commenced? Why are more and more systems, venues being gamed?  (I myself hadn't been aware of the gaming of the Triple Crown - leading to NO winners since 1978-  until wifey alerted me to it, while reading an article about Chrome's efforts.)

The Triple Crown aspiration for a proud race horse used to be sacrosanct. And then, for some reason, the goobers at the top altered the rules so that horses didn’t have to compete in each leg of the Crown. But then, WTF is the point? It would be about like having a College Final Four tournament and three of the end teams were allowed to just lolli-plop in there without having to play earlier opponents in earlier rounds. So they'd have a distinct advantage over the lone team that has plowed through every round.

Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn (who alas, delivered a terrible analogy to the travesty his filly experienced)was furious after the race and he had a right to be. Some media morons labeled him a “sore loser” but surely not,  as he referred to those horses that skipped the first two legs to compete in the Belmont:

That’s the coward’s way out. It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game from day one. If you don’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races. It’s all or nothing.”

He describes the basis of a sane and rational system that doesn’t pander simply to money and greed. In other words, rack up points for each horse in each race – according to time and placement.  Only the top five or six horses – with the most points accumulated  - can then compete in the final (which is also the most rigorous leg), the Belmont Stakes.

In addition, from the outset of any special racing series – take the Triple Crown – the field must remain stable – NO newcomers!  The field is the winnowed as the next two races unfold – much as the much vaster field to the Final Four is winnowed by active participation – not just popping up as a “Johnny come lately” and catching a break (or playing spoiler). If you haven’t worked your ass off in the first race, the Derby, you don’t get any further. It’s hasta la vista! Either that, or no longer refer to a "Triple Crown" series. (It's more a Triple Crown fantasy...or farce.)

Thus, by the mandate of a stable field, only the 20 horses that originally ran in the Kentucky Derby ought to be eligible for the Preakness. This sounds harsh, perhaps, but only because people are looking at it from an inverted, false perspective. I’d even call it a “Neoliberal” perspective, given the extent to which that idiom has changed the rules across multiple fronts and gamed fairness away.

By the time of the Preakness, then, perhaps only ten horses are eligible based on points accumulated. By the time of the Belmont, perhaps only five are eligible and bear in mind this is the most grueling race at all …at 1.5 miles. But the smaller competitor field is exactly what one expects in a fair chase to the championship.  After all, in similar ways, the playoff teams are winnowed for the NFL, as are the college teams contending for the Final Four – or the NBA Finals.  (This is also why I have bitterly opposed the NFL adding a new spate of playoff teams, which will just water down the competition. Can you say 'mediocrity'?).

Of course, assorted media nitwits don't agree. Jay Privmann (who's incredibly covered horse racing for 30 years), said in the aftermath  (making my head explode):

"Whether or not a Triple Crown happens should not be the guiding force on how the Triple Crown is scheduled. It's a great event, a great series of races. And I don't think it should be altered just to accommodate a horse trying to win all three of them."

Hey, nitwit! It was altered - since 1978!  (That was the year of the last winner, 'Afformed'). So Privmann has it exactly ass -backwards. In other words, the alteration was done NOT to accommodate a horse or owner trying to win all three. In the end, Privmann - for all his gushing -  doesn't get that the Triple Crown has thereby become meaningless: a wistful echo of the past, that mayhap one bionic filly may win, but no normal horse has a chance. It's all about the betting, the moola! Deal with it!

 The only reason to preserve increased fields – whether in NFL playoffs or Triple Crown races -  is money!  Thus, the more contenders, the more different bets can be made on the supposed potential winners. This is one more sign of how our nation has even degraded its sports competitions by the excess veneration of money.

Tonalist, the winner of the Belmont, was a “fresh and rested horse” according to the media. In other words, it was an outrage for this critter to even be there. He didn’t earn it, and merely played the role of spoiler. Chrome, meanwhile, also had to nurse a gashed hoof – which made it a double handicap for him to win.  (Tonalist beat ‘Commissioner’ – another new-be, by a head, a double disgrace.)

The way the current system for the Triple Crown is stacked, it is clear there will never be another Triple Crown winner unless maybe, the horse is secretly a bionic and genetically engineered superhorse. But maybe that is exactly what the powers-that-be want: multiple competitors but no clear Triple Crown winner.

 The owners of Secretariat  - who won in '73 and wanted to welcome Chrome into the magic winners' ring- will have to wait past the time the Sun inflates to a Red Giant - if then - before any more Triple Crown winners emerge. In other words, they never will - not under the current gamed system.
Advice to horse owners: Don't even think of running your horse for the Triple Crown. Under the existing 'loaded'  system at work,  it makes more sense to play spoiler for those who do!  The cost to benefits ratio is clearly insurmountable for those seeking a Triple Crown.


A day later Coburn apologized for his words, but I don't believe he should have. In that first instant he simply told more truth than most can accept in our now re-vamped "modern" horse racing world - where the  1 percent rule, like they do everyplace else!

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