California Chrome had scarcely been tarnished by defeat in the third leg of the US Triple Crown, finishing fourth in a dead-heat behind Tonalist in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday night, before the co-owner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner rounded on his conquerors for joining the Classic fray late in the day by sitting out the previous contests and the qualifying regime to run at Churchill Downs.
“They set [their horses] out and try to upset the apple cart,” said Steve Coburn, “this was the coward’s way out.”
Coburn seemed unable to countenance his colt’s failure being down to the lack of stamina for a mile and a half typical of US pedigrees. But paradoxically, 50 years on from Northern Dancer’s failure to secure the Triple Crown when third in the 1964 Belmont, his prepotent influence as a stallion remains the very lifeblood of the Derby, won on Saturday by Australia, anointed in advance by Aidan O’Brien as the best he has trained.
The son of Galileo was the third consecutive winner of the Epsom Classic for Ballydoyle and the fourth in a row for his Coolmore owners, who have made their own the old maxim: “The thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby.” In this neither Godolphin nor the rising powers of Qatar seem able to lay a glove on them.
The victory over Kingston Hill did not live up to the hype, but O’Brien is not in quite the hurry of some of the winner’s admirers to drop him back to 10 furlongs, indicating the Irish Derby as a possible next target.Yet the winning jockey, Joseph O’Brien, even suggested a rematch with the 2,000 Guineas principals Night Of Thunder and Kingman over a mile. All seems possible – except, of course, the St Leger.