…and the Agony of Defeat

coborns zip it

They’re waiting for you at Belleview, with their oxygen masks – Manfred Mann

Ten years ago, Smarty Jones turned for home in the Belmont Stakes with a dwindling three-length lead and Triple Crown immortality on the line.  In his previous eight races, he had never been passed.  He had just run the first mile and a quarter of the Belmont in a time that would have won all but three Kentucky Derby’s, but he was still a quarter mile from home.

Birdstone was looming.

“Find more” I pleaded, as Tom Durkin’s voice in the background shouted “It’s been twenty-six years, it’s just one furlong away!!”  But Birdstone kept coming, and history shows that Smarty Jones was denied the Crown by the 36-1 longshot in the final hundred yards.  Yes, it hurt.  When it’s meaningful to you, it’s supposed to hurt.

There have been a few others.  The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic comes to mind, as Zenyatta trailed the field for much of the race before starting her electrifying run around the far turn.  Turning for home, the Queen blew by Lookin’ at Lucky and had Blame in her sights.  Trevor Denman’s call of the final fifty yards had a desperate, hopeful, heartbreaking tone.  “Zenyatta… Zenyatta…Zen-YATTA…B-lame”.  The world keeps spinning…

Which brings us to last Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.  My contender group included four runners: California Chrome, Wicked Strong, General A Rod, and Tonalist.  I estimated that California Chrome’s chances of success were about a coin flip, and that there was probably sound logic involved in wagering against that outcome.  But this was one of those races where I just couldn’t.  We all have our favorites, and ‘Chrome had become one of mine.  The emotional payoff would be enough.

So there I stood in front of the television as I had done a decade earlier, watching the race unfold and whispering under my breath for ‘Chrome to find a bit more at the 16th pole, while at the same time understanding once again that disappointment would be my dessert.

Two lengths short.

It hurts, as it’s supposed to, but I’m not an advocate of changing the Triple Crown.  The post-race interview with California Chrome’s owner Steve Coburn was sour, and it turned a feel-good story into a post-Belmont fiasco.  Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail down the road.

The Triple Crown is hard to win, as it should be.  To be the best you have to beat the best, and that includes taking on horses that are rested and ready for the final leg.  We have seen the best of the breed succeed in similar circumstances, and their names are etched in the history books.

It will happen again.

The Oracle



  1. Really enjoyed the descriptions of Smarty Jones’ bid for the Tc, and Zenyatta’s improbable, and truly electrifying stretch run in the 2010 BC Classic. Good prose, thank you. It’s not easy to distill years of history and such emotional charge into a few sentences, but this writer does a satisfying job.

  2. Heisenberg says:

    “For You” is a Springsteen composition from his first album. Manfred Mann is just a carrier.

    • Yes you are correct. However, The Oracle prefers, and I have no explanation how or why, the Manfred Mann version.
      Don’t call for your surgeon, even he says it’s late…….

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