The end of a California (Chrome) dream

California Chrome Preakness finish

California Chrome Preakness finish

How is it that you can fall in love with someone you don’t know?

What if that someone were a horse?

Millions of us fell in love with California Chrome these past few weeks and millions of us got our hearts broken as he finished out of the money in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, which increasingly seems to be won by a horse you don’t care about. This year it was Tonalist, who didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. He’s named for an art principle. (In more than 30 years covering the arts, I never once used the term tonalism. Let’s just admit it’s a pretentious name, and leave it at that, shall we?)

Anyway, CC’s more voluble owner, Steve Coburn, did Chromies no favors by suggesting that it’s not fair for a horse like Tonalist, fresh as a daisy, to waltz away with a win since he didn’t run in the Derby and the Preakness. Take it like a man, Steve, congratulate the winner and move on.

Leave it to people like me to suggest that the rules should be thus: No Derby or Preakness run, no entry to the Belmont. I agree with Coburn. It would be like giving Roger Federer a bye to the semifinals of a Slam while Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had to play through all the early rounds. (Bet Feddy, who just became a daddy to a second set of twins with wife Mirka – much happiness, all – would love that, though.)

But what of Chrome? Does a horse know when he loses? Does he understand when others suddenly look at him differently? 

I didn’t. I stood up at home and clapped for him, as ridiculous as that may sound. Such a beautiful, intelligent creature. He did the best he could, which is all anyone can ask of anyone, even if the best falls short. 

Someday the Triple Crown dream will live again, if only in “Criterion,” the third planned book in my series “The Games Men Play.”