06/06/2014 10:30AM

Fornatale: Not everyone rooting for Chrome


There is a famous story that the surviving members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the NFL’s last undefeated team, drink champagne every season when the last unbeaten NFL team loses its first game, ensuring that their memorable feat goes unmatched for another year. Steve Wolfson Sr., the son of Harbor View Farm’s Louis Wolfson, can relate.

“My general feeling as part of Team Affirmed from all those years ago is that I never want anybody to win the Triple Crown ever again,” he said.

Steve Wolfson is one of the godfathers of handicapping tournaments. In 1991, he created the Thoroughbred Challenge at the Mirage in Las Vegas. He has played on the NHC Tour since its inception and has qualified for the National Handicapping Championship many times, including a berth for 2015. Like many a good handicapping-tournament participant, Wolfson is a dyed-in-the-wool contrarian. As such, he doesn’t want to see any of the venerable records in sports fall.

“I don’t mean to be egocentric about it,” he said. “I don’t want to see DiMaggio’s hitting streak broken. I don’t want to see any tennis player win four Grand Slams in a year like Rod Laver did in 1967. I don’t want anybody to ever go undefeated in pro football. And for me, that’s what the Triple Crown is like – it’s like a record I don’t want to see broken, ever. Sports are wonderfully democratic that way – we’re all entitled to root for or against whomever we want.”

But, of course, in the case of the Triple Crown, it’s more personal than just that. Wolfson will be in attendance Saturday in the Harbor View box, but he understands that others associated with Affirmed are looking at the moment in a different way.

“I know Patrice [Wolfson of Harbor View Farm] has said publicly that she’d like to see it for a variety of reasons,” he said. “And Steve Cauthen is on record saying that if California Chrome can get this distance, he’ll win for fun. But for me, family-wise, for my dad’s sake, I’d rather Affirmed be the last Triple Crown winner. My dad had such an amazing life, and Affirmed’s Triple Crown might have been the high point. I don’t ever want it to happen for that reason.”

All personal feelings aside, the Belmont Stakes is still the 11th race at Belmont on Saturday and will feature prominently in many contests. Wolfson doesn’t like California Chrome from that perspective either.

“I think he’s head and shoulders above these horses, but it takes a unique animal to win this race,” he said. “To start with the obvious, to win the Belmont, you have to be able to go a mile and a half. I think California Chrome is going to have everybody really excited as they turn for home, but I think he’ll be third at best.”

Wolfson emphasized that his feelings were not meant as a slam of the people or the horse trying to equal Affirmed’s feat.

“As I’ve gotten older, looking at the horses who have tried to win the Triple Crown, sometimes I’ll say to myself, ‘What is there not to like about these connections?’ But these people seem like awfully good, upright people,” he said. “Art Sherman seems like a terrific guy, and the horse is so attractive. I can’t knock the horse at all on a human level, so I have to go to something more cerebral, like handicapping.”

But hasn’t California Chrome shown the class to be a worthy successor to Affirmed? And doesn’t that, along with the wonderful human story surrounding the horse, make him one to root for? Wolfson allows for this possibility.

“It’s hard to say without the benefit of hindsight,” he said. “If I knew California Chrome would win the Triple Crown and go on to be a terrific 4-year-old, that would really sway my opinion.”

Wolfson, a well-known breeding expert from his time working with both Harbor View Farm and Happy Valley Racing, has zeroed in on a handful of contenders for possible use in contest play.

“Of the 11 horses entered here, I only see four that really want to go this far,” he said. “In no particular order: Wicked Strong, Tonalist, Commanding Curve, and Matuszak. The horse I like to win the race is Matuszak. I like his breeding, I love Bill Mott, and I think he’s coming up to the race right. He needs more distance, and a lot of these horses need less distance. And he’ll be 40 or 50 to 1.”

Like all seasoned handicappers, Wolfson allows for the possibility that he might be wrong. How will he feel if California Chrome gets to the wire first Saturday?

“I certainly won’t be overly crestfallen,” he said. “I’ll be thrilled that I was able to be there when it happened. But my overriding emotion will be disappointment.”

If California Chrome loses, however, you can bet that a bottle of champagne will be headed to the Harbor View box.


Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
OK....We've all had our say, Let's move on.
Pat Gianforte More than 1 year ago
I think Mr. Wolfsons comments were from the heart and I see nothing wrong with anything he said. It would have been great for the Sport, I rooted for Chrome but left him off most of my tickets. It was a great betting race, a rare opportunity to capitalize on so many sentimental bettors. I doubt there will ever be another Triple Crown winner. Look at the strain it put on the 3 horses that did run in all 3 races. Ride on Curlin DNF, General ARod was empty at the 3/4 pole and finished a fast fading 9th or 10th. Chrome ran his eyeballs out, was(is) the class of the 3 year olds and still got beat 2 lengths. Not only were Mr. Wolfsons comments acceptable, he turned out to be quite prophetic! He said we would all be really excited when they turned for home(appeared to be making a winning move) and he would be 3rd at best(dead heat for 4th).
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Very good point, Pat. The contrarian way of thinking can pay dividends -- that much is certain.
Scott Carson More than 1 year ago
Steve Wolfson is a classy guy who loves the horses. He'll bet a horse because the sire and dam were favorites of his. He always makes sure to point out his love of the animal and not just betting. I think if and when another horse wins Triple Crown, he'll be cheering just like the rest of us.
shurmanw More than 1 year ago
I totally get where Steve was coming from. It wasn't that he doesn't want to see another triple crown winner, but he wants whoever it is to be worthy. He doesn't see worthiness as being solely defined by five weeks starting with the first Saturday in May, but by unqualified greatness as can only be determined over a longer period of time. I was around in the 70's to witness the greatness of Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. I believe each of them, although not perfect, proved their greatness after the triple crown. Although not to diminish the achievement of winning the first two legs of the triple crown, most that achieved that since Affirmed either proved themselves not worthy, or didn't have the opportunity to prove themselves worthy. I'm sorry, but although I was rooting for Funny Cide, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, War Emblem, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and all the others who had the chance to win the triple crown, in retrospect I'm glad most of them didn't. I knew Affirmed, and those horses were no Affirmed. On the other hand, I think Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence or Easy Goer, if they had won it, would have proved themselves worthy. I wish one or more of them had achieved it. I think Steve would agree.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Ah, that would have been a great question for me to ask!! Perhaps when I next speak with him. Thanks for your post, Bill.
pshurm More than 1 year ago
Wolfson certainly wasn't the only one who didn't want to see California Chrome win. How about the people who bet $10 million dollars into the win pool against him? Or the people who had the winner? Should those players be chastised for rooting against CC? I think not. I could be wrong, but at the time Affirmed won the Triple Crown , I don't think Wolfson thought, "I hope no one ever wins it again". But if has become such a special occurrence and it has become over the years so meaningful to him and the memories of his family, that I could certainly understand how he could be disappointed when that important piece of his life is over. We all have stages in our lives that we know will eventually come to an end. We know it will happen. We want it to last as long as possible. And when the inevitable occurs....we are disappointed and sad....but then we move on....as will Wolfson. As he stated in the article, he wants a horse who is truly worthy to be the one who wins the next Triple Crown. I think that is the feeling of most true horseplayers. As he also stated, it is difficult to gauge the true qualify of a horse until he has raced in the fall and as a four year old. "If I knew California Chrome would win the Triple Crown and go on to be a terrific four year old, that would really sway my opinion". Although I would have loved to see CC win yesterday, I too want the next TC winner to be truly great. I am not saying that if CC won yesterday he wouldn't have been a very special horse, but I would certainly have been rooting hard for him to continue to impress. Also take note that Wolfson would have been "thrilled" to be able to be there when if it happened. So take it easy on the guy. On smaller scales, we have probably all been in similar positions and have felt the same way.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Excellent points, Paul. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Steve Jones More than 1 year ago
Please somebody tell me what horse has to do to be considered worthy of the TC? CC was getting slammed before the race was ever run that he was not a worthy 3 year old colt? My question is why? I wish half the people on these boards could run 1 and a half miles on 3 legs and finish 4th!!!
RandomNameMeToo More than 1 year ago
I have NO problem with how Wolfson feels. At least he has a reason that I can respect if not totally agree with. And he isn't bashing anyone else--he just feels the way he feels. Maybe if I'd ever had a horse like Affirmed, I'd feel the same way. And I don't want to see DiMaggio's streak broken either.
Mitchell Schuman More than 1 year ago
Mr. Wolfson expressed his opinion is a very respectful way, making sure to compliment CC's connections. Contrast that to the way Mr. Coburn disgraced himself after the race. I have no doubt who is the better representative of Thoroughbred Racing. It is NOT Mr. Coburn. The fact that CC might not have been a worthy Triple Crown winner is now self-evident.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Tx for commenting Mitch! I must admit I had the same thought after Mr Colburn's comments. Not so much last night, when I wrote them off as the ramblings of a man who got his heart broken, but today when he climbed deeper into the crevasse! Maybe it's not so bad this one lost. However, I do wish to say that despite his owner, as an equine, I didn't think CC lost anything he defeat. He tried very hard to do something he simply wasn't bred to do.
Mitchell Schuman More than 1 year ago
That's why his owner should have simply said, my horse ran his eyeballs out and lost to a fresher, better bred horse. No disgrace in that at all. Too bad he took the low road.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Indeed. Completely insane that he didn't just apologize and move on today. His nom de course may be a rare example of truth in advertising.
Steve Jones More than 1 year ago
Why do you trash his breeding?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Not sure whose breeding you mean, Coburn or the horse? In Coburn's case, it comes down to manners more than breeding. Re the horse, I didn't say anything abt the horse's breeding. I did say he didn't want to run 12 furlongs. I would say after watching the race that seem an ipso facto conclusion. I felt like his tremendous class him as close as it did, but he clearly lacked the turn of foot he had going shorter. Sure, the foot may have been a factor there to some degree, but I believe the distance was the most important variable.
Jeff Brown More than 1 year ago
The reality is that we will never know how much the foot pain contributed. It may have prevented him from winning by ten lengths. What we do know is that at the classic distance of 1 1/4, CC is far and away the best 3 year old in America.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Look, people are allowed to feel however they want. And I mean that both about the folks making negative comments here and about Cali Chrome. Steve Wolfson, Sr., didn't get to be a success in life and in racing by thinking like everyone else. The guy is a major contrarian and he wears that as a badge of honor. And I guarantee you it's no small part of his success. I wrote this piece not to make Chrome supports angry or to portray Mr. Wolfson in any kind of negative light. I simply thought it was a fascinating window into a man's soul (uh, if I do say so myself ;)). I think his attitude spoke of both his contrarian nature and also his tight connection to his family and his dad's place in history. Is it the most sporting attitude in the world? I suppose not. But nobody seems to mind when the 72 Dolphins pop the corks every year and I sure didn't begrudge Mr. W a bottle of Pierre Gimonnet on Saturday.
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
Peter: you are too kind to Mr. Wolfson. His comment lacked class, although certainly not as low as Mr. Coburn's comments. Being a contrarian is not an excuse for being graceless.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I see where you are coming from and are certainly entitled to your opinion (as I'm sure you'd agree is Mr W.) That said, does anyone think the 72 Dolphins are graceless? I surely don't.
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
Peter: a true horse lover wants to see great horses bred and racing in every generation. In fact we hope the breed improves over time, although many of us think the opposite is in fact happening. I don't think football is analogous. Regards.
Albert Dormaier More than 1 year ago
how selfish
bags410 More than 1 year ago
do you think that affirmed was a valid successor to seattle slew? I think not after watching him being destroyed twice by the slew!
Carmela Bozulich More than 1 year ago
This guy needs to grow up and go find another milestone to champion. It's high time for another TC winner, the sport needs it...and it needs alot less of people like Wolfson the younger.
wally More than 1 year ago
Strange things can happen in a horse race , just like in other competitive sports !!!!!!~
Barry Taylor More than 1 year ago
I think Matuszak will run big as well
Old timer More than 1 year ago
This sounds like a rather small minded attitude IMO. Records are made to be broken. Plus it does not diminish Affirmed's record one bit if CC wins tomorrow.
Cleon Silence More than 1 year ago
oh my, how some people talks,,, if if if , Mr Wolfson does not sound like an expert,, matter of fact he sounds like anything but an expert. I would love to see California Chrome win and I hope he wins by many,, maybe this will make people like Wolfson shut up, Why do so many people only have a cup half empty The above article is so empty ,, only speaking for myself mind you
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
Personally, I am a bit disappointed in Steve Wolfson's feelings. If California Chrome does indeed win the Belmont, Louis Wolfson will still have been the owner of a great horse. It is somewhat selfish and self serving on Steve Wolfson's part. Just my opinion.
Bruce Eckhoff More than 1 year ago
I can understand where Wolfson is coming from. Also many provincial east coast racing fans would love to see someone like Wicked Strong or Tonalist win. Fans are fans, I doubt there are many Rangers fans that WANT to see the Kings win. I understand that too. I remember when Smarty Jones lost that heartbreaker I was not unhappy, because I wanted a SoCal based horse to be the one to break the streak. However, the other day I watched a tape of that race and I felt pretty bad that Birdstone caught Smarty. The last few years I have wanted whoever won the Derby to win the TC. But we all are bettors as well as fans of the amazing athletes we watch and (hopefully) appreciate. No matter who we root for we have that in common. Tomorrow should be a fun day. I'm all in for Chromester, but I understand if you are not.
B More than 1 year ago
I don't have much appreciation for this article. Wolfson talks about the TC as though it belongs to Affirmed. His victory is no better or more important than the other ten winners and he is not even the best horse to win the TC, though he was a great one. No records fall, including Affirmed's, if there is another TC winner.
Charles Hannity More than 1 year ago
Better leave the champagne at home. I don`t think you will need it.
Edward More than 1 year ago
Sounds petty.
Allan Gauthier More than 1 year ago
If i had that opinion......i would keep it to myself.
Drew More than 1 year ago
Boo! Go Cali Chrome
Phil Johnwell More than 1 year ago
Two guys spent 10 thousand and now the horse is worth 30 million..10 thousand to 30 million in 5 weeks..Only in America..That's like saying I want JFK to be the last Demo President..It's not a record, it's an accomplishment..It's in the cards !
Em Duett More than 1 year ago
$30 million? Seriously? I'd say CC's stock took a deep dive after SC's rant post Belmont. I could be wrong, but I don't see anyone here in Kentucky wanting to stand him. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to deal with SC in a stud deal. (How did he find a hat big enought for his head?) Additionally, would SC want to send his horse east of the Mississippi, either to race or stand? If and when he returns to the track, CC will competen against Cali's relatively inferior 3 year-olds. (Sounds familiar.) CC is an anomaly. It is highly unlikely Lucky Pulpit or Love the Chase (I think that's the dam's name.) will ever produce another like him. And I will predict here and now that CC does not live up to his record on the track in the stud barn. How do you say California Chrome in Japanese?
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
He better put ROC on his sheet along with 'CC Rider" and by all means BOX it!!!...
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
Disappointment? Wolfson is honest at least but far from generous. His comment is the opposite of admirable.