California Chrome had it all. The three-year-old thoroughbred won the Kentucky Derby last year. Two weeks later, he topped the field at the Preakness, becoming the only horse bred in the Golden State to ever win both races. Then, on June 7, 2014, he was about to run the Belmont Stakes, the final race in the so-called Triple Crown. The last horse to win all three of these races was Affirmed in 1978, but maybe Chrome had a chance to bring the title into the 21st century: The colt had a prime starting position, second in the gate. The odds were on his side, at 3-5. His legion of fans, the #Chromies, mustered on Twitter.
But Chrome fell short. Tying for fourth, he became the 13th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to fail in the third in almost 40 years. The winner at Belmont, Tonalist, hadn’t raced in the Derby or the Preakness, and in a post-race interview, Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn argued that the Triple Crown should be a closed circuit: No parachuting in to run the Belmont if you haven’t already run the previous races in the series. “It’s not fair to the horses that have been in the game since day one,” Coburn said. “It’s all or nothing. This is the coward’s way out.”
Coburn has a point. Post-race recovery is no joke for a thousand-pound animal that can run more than 40 miles per hour. There are two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness, and three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont. That tight schedule—and the super-specific needs of racehorses—means horses competing in the grueling back-to-back-to-back Triple Crown races have a big disadvantage against fresh horses.