It's so unfair. Lady Eli's career might be remembered in the context of those saddest of words about what might have been. And California Chrome's accomplishments could forever be obscured by the serial buffoonery of his owners.
Justice isn't the business of life. For that, most of us should probably be endlessly grateful. But at times like these, it's impossible not to resent the unfairness of, well, everything.
Lady Eli has laminitis. Her trainer, Chad Brown, made the announcement Monday. Returning to the barn after winning the $1 million Belmont Oaks on July 4, the unbeaten 3-year-old filly "stepped on a nail ... and injured her left front foot," Brown explained, and that injury has developed into laminitis.
And so for the most intriguing and promising filly in America, whose prospects seemed boundless just 10 days ago, the future has suddenly become uncertain. Laminitis is inflammation of the layered laminae, which stabilize and cushion the bones of the foot. Although often secondary to other injuries, laminitis can be fatal, as it finally proved to be for Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro in 2007.
Next to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Lady Eli is, quite simply, the most exciting racehorse in the country. Her capacity for acceleration is exceeded by nothing that breathes. She won the recent Oaks by nearly three lengths while seeming to just play through the final furlong as she looked for a challenge, and in doing so she ran the 1-1/4 miles over the Belmont turf in 1:59.27, or nearly two full seconds faster than Force the Pass (2:01.16), who won the Belmont Derby on the same card. When she won the Wonder Again Stakes, overcoming traffic and escaping a box, she ran the final three-eighths of a mile in 33.19 seconds, which is almost otherworldly. As a 2-year-old winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly Turf event, she ran the final quarter-mile in 22.53 seconds, or about two lengths faster than Karkonite (22.96), who won the next day's Mile event.
After her win in the Oaks, Brown said Lady Eli simply "breathes different air" from other horses. Her trainer described her as the best turf filly he's ever been around, and he not only has trained a champion, Stacelita, but also worked with several champions as an assistant for Hall Of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.
And so news of Lady Eli's problems arrived like a rock through the window. But there's also this: Because of bone bruising, California Chrome won't race again this year, which means he might not race again at all. He was at Arlington Park preparing for the Arlington Million when X-rays, taken prerequisite to a possible sale, revealed the injury, according to Daily Racing Form.
If the career of last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner has indeed concluded, it'll be profoundly disappointing because the most lasting memories of his racing have been tainted by, yes, the afore mentioned serial buffoonery of his owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin. After California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth in New York, and with all the sophistication and charm of a bullhorn blaring a fraternity cheer, Coburn told a national television audience that the Belmont Stakes wasn't fair.
Amazing isn't it, one of the luckiest persons ever to step into a racetrack complaining about the sport's unfairness? Somebody should have grabbed him by the lapels and said, "I'll tell you what's not fair: you owning this terrific horse." For a few thousand bucks, Coburn and Martin had purchased the dam (Love the Chase) of a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. It was a great story -- or it could have been. But a shower of good luck -- not to mention millions in purse money -- wasn't enough for them. After the Belmont, Coburn was a bitter and spiteful loser.
From beneath his cowboy hat, he looked angrily into the television camera and said: "I'll never see in my lifetime another Triple Crown winner." Thank you, American Pharoah.
Coburn, as it turned out, represented the smarter half of the partnership. After California Chrome finished second in the Dubai World Cup to unheralded Prince Bishop, he was aimed, reportedly at Martin's insistence, at the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The plan to send California Chrome to England was rather like the call of a bull moose in that it sounded interesting, if even sporting and daring. Actually, though, it was foolish, since the goal, as stated, was to enhance the colt's value as a stallion. In his only turf outing, California Chrome had defeated a modest field to win the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar; it was hardly the sort of performance that suggested he could compete with some of Europe's best on their home turf. He was more likely to be embarrassed than impressive at Ascot; in fact, he would have had a better chance of proving his turf prowess by racing here. As for his value as a stallion, because of his humble pedigree, the ceiling was low from the outset. Having already won two-thirds of the Triple Crown, he probably could do little, if anything, to improve on that and enhance his stallion prospects; he was much more likely to diminish them. And then there was all the travel, with its necessity of constantly adjusting to new environments and surroundings and people. This is a racehorse, not Rick Steves. How could anybody expect California Chrome to travel to Dubai and then to England and then to who-knows-where before coming home to race in the Breeders' Cup?
If Coburn and Martin had experienced a few more lapses into common sense and left the management of the horse to his trainer, Art Sherman -- well, who knows what might have happened? But California Chrome did not race in England, reportedly because of a foot bruise. He came home to aim instead for the Arlington Million. Now, though, the bruising seems to be much more extensive -- to cannon bone and ego and career.