It says a lot about a young horse, and jockey for that matter, who was able to hang on for the win in the Preakness with the Kentucky Derby champ breathing down his neck in the stretch. Shackleford deserves all the credit for a well run and hard-earned victory and will be remembered for it. However, the only blemish on his resume, for the next few months, is that he will also be known as the horse responsible for stretching the years since our last Triple Crown winner to 33.
Coming into the Preakness, as we learned more about him and looked a little closer at his pedigree and stamina, Animal Kingdom began to look more and more like a horse ready to re-write the history books. It was also apparent that, unlike a few of our most recent horses who got through the first two legs before their bid was ended, the 2nd leg would be the toughest of the three for Animal Kingdom. For now, that’s what it turned out to be. Animal Kingdom mounted a strong final charge at Shackleford and fought gamely for the chance to move into New York with all eyes focused squarely on him. However, it just wasn’t enough as Shackleford held strong leaving our Kentucky Derby champ just a half-length short of brilliance.
Let’s face it, the Triple Crown is a tough feat to reach and one of the most underrated accomplishments in sports. Just look at the numbers. In 1978, Affirmed became only the 11th horse to have ever been crowned since the inaugural Kentucky Derby in 1875. Through the unforgettable stretch battles against arch rival, Alydar, Affirmed’s memorable journey to the promise land leaves us in today’s 33 year drought. Although it is the longest drought in Triple Crown history (Previous: 24 yrs, ’48-’72), this drought has endured a challenge from 11 different outstanding horses.
Belmont Stakes Results — 11 Triple Crown Bids Since 1978
- 1979: Spectacular Bid — 3rd by 3¼ lengths
- 1981: Pleasant Colony — 3rd by 1½ lengths
- 1987: Alysheba — 4th Place
- 1989: Sunday Silence — 2nd by 8 lengths (Winner: Easy Goer)
- 1997: Silver Charm — 2nd by a half-length (Winner: Touch Gold)
- 1998: Real Quiet — 2nd in a photo finish by a nose (Winner: Victory Gallop)
- 1999: Charismatic — 3rd by 1½ lengths (Winner: Lemon Drop Kid)
- 2002: War Emblem — 8th Place (Stumbled out of the starting gate)
- 2003: Funny Cide — 3rd Place by 5 lengths (Winner: Empire Maker)
- 2004: Smarty Jones — 2nd by a length (Winner: Birdstone)
- 2008: Big Brown — DNF (Pulled up in the home stretch, cracked hoof)
As close as it was in ’97 and ’04, it wasn’t as close or memorable as 1998. In 1978, after a stretch duel for the ages, the racing Gods were in Affirmed’s corner when he won the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown by the slimmest of margins: a nose over Alydar. 20 years later, the tides turned for Victory Gallop. After two 2nd place finishes to Real Quiet in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the 3rd and final leg is where he completed his triple crown legacy. What better way to celebrate a Triple Crown than by reliving a story that unfolded 20 years earlier. At the top of the lane it seemed fitting that Victory Gallop was gearing up for another charge home, only to be denied by the champ yet again. As is horse racing, however, Real Quiet’s nose just wasn’t long enough when the picture was taken.
I can’t argue with the nay sayers reasoning on why they feel they won’t ever see their first or another Triple Crown, but I can argue the reasons why I believe that I will. I compliment Team Valor and Graham Motion on their breeding and training of Animal Kingdom. I also found it very interesting how good a horse Aninal Kingdom is with so little racing prior to the Kentucky Derby. If he could have made his final move a touch or two sooner or if Shackleford would have faltered slightly, in my opinion, Animal Kingdom would have entered the Belmont Stakes as the possibly the fittest, freshest, and most capable horse of hanlding the 1 1/2 Mile Distance since Affirmed. While the majority of all of this may be considered here say, I expect similar horses on the rise. By that I mean, horses who are lightly raced before the derby with the intent of coming into the Belmont Stakes fresh and still in form. Altough they may be lightly raced, I think they will be trained like a champion, with stamina in mind. Finally, I expect to see more horses with a pedigree for distance, horses that will be ready to battle and win the long stretch run at Belmont Park.
Until the drought is ended, this topic is sure to exist. Altough I cannot wait to the see that day come, I won’t discount the racing we’re seeing or any promsing bids that may fizzle. With the Belmont Stakes coming up next, you can count on us to not consider this race to have lost it’s luster because there isn’t the potential of it being “the one” that ended the drought. The Belmont is truly a spectactular event in the great city of New York and is worth the trip for those that have yet to attend. While it’s too early to declare who’s in, the possibility of Shakleford, Nehro, and Animal Kingdom battling again is going to be a pleasure to enjoy.
No Triple Crown Bid in 2011 but the show goes on…………
Written by: Little Brink