Spoiler Alert: Triple Crown Debut at the Belmont Stakes

Waiting Until the Belmont Poses a Threat 

In the history of the Triple Crown there have been 19 bids for immortality that unraveled at the Belmont Stakes. The majority of these endeavors were negated by a horse that had already appeared in either of the first two legs. However, there is still a substantial amount of spoilers that made their Triple Crown debut in the Belmont Stakes. This is just another element that makes winning the Triple Crown such a daunting challenge because to win all three jewels a horse has to conquer a field of nominated contenders that can enter at anytime. On 8 different occasions the spoiler was played by a horse that waited until the Belmont before making their Triple Crown debut.

And they are: 

  • Da Tara 2008 – Big Brown
  • Savara 2002 – War Emblem
  • Summing 1981 – Pleasant Colony
  • Coastal 1979 – Spectacular Bid
  • Pass Catcher 1971 – Canonero II
  • Stage Door Johnny 1968 – Forward Pass
  • Cavan 1958 – Tim Tam
  • Bounding Home 1944 – Pensive

The contributing factor to this occurrence ranges between different things. The first example is the Belmont Stakes distance – 1 ½ Mile. Horse racing in many ways is vastly different from other types of racing but one common thing between them all is that certain races are designed to be won by a competitor that prefers longer distances. Many trainers are conscious of this and they are aware of the horses in their barn that have the pedigree to support it. So if this is the case then it makes sense to wait for the race or distance that suits their horse the best. In relation to the Triple Crown staying fresh is key so if you determine your best shot at winning one of the jewels is to wait for the Belmont Stakes then why enter the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes? Some trainers will argue that this isn’t the approach they would take with their 3-yr-old on the Triple Crown but because the distance is so rare it is not surprising that this option has been used.

To put the 1 ½ Mile Distance into perspective; As determined by the American Graded Stakes Committee, of the 449 Graded Stakes races in 2012, only 21 of them are raced at a distance of 1.5 Mile and only 3 are at a distance greater than that. Of the 24 races at this lengthy distance only the Belmont Stakes is open strictly to horses at age 3, while all of the rest are for either 3-yr-olds and up or 4-yr-olds and up. Now when you consider this is it a surprise that the Triple Crown is such a challenge? 3-yr-olds are still young horses that can continue to mature a significant amount before and after age 4. Because a horse was either caught in the stretch or failed to bid in their attempt to become a Triple Crown winner doesn’t mean that the 1 ½ Mile distance cannot be achieved at a later time in their career. Instead, on that day it may have been a Distance runner that patiently waited until June before making his splash on the Triple Crown.

The other notable factor behind a Triple Crown spoiler coming from a horse that skipped that Derby and Preakness is the readiness factor. A trainer knows when he has a Kentucky Derby caliber horse in his barn but it doesn’t mean that the horse will be ready to blossom in time for the first Saturday in May. When the prize money of a Grade 1 race is $1 Million and beyond there’s no question about why a trainer and owner are patient with the development of their colt or filly especially when it’s been determined that they will excel at this class of thoroughbred racing.

Some horses on the other hand are quick to develop. Several actually enjoy the best season of their career at age 2 or at the beginning of age 3. As for some in the Belmont Stakes every year it isn’t until the summer of their 3-yr-old season that their progress finally reaches its peak. Good trainers have to be very calculated with their decisions and will never bow out of a race because a potential Triple Crown winner is on the horizon. If their hopes of running in the Kentucky Derby didn’t come to fruition no trainer will fold on entering any of the remaining Triple Crown races. This is true more than ever when a trainer thinks his horse is as good if not better than the Derby winner. If development stalled and Derby qualification failed then there’s always the opportunity to get back into the game once blossoming completes its cycle. When that comes before the Belmont Stakes is when it just adds more fuel to the Triple Crown challenger fire.

The Triple Crown carries an overwhelming amount of those that think that is unlikely that it will ever be won again. However, the majority of those might not understand how difficult it was for the 11 that have accomplished one of the most grueling trifectas in sports. If there was a rule that prohibited entry into the Belmont Stakes without finishing in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness then maybe there would be more winners and one more recent. But that is not a rule and will never be a rule. The Triple Crown is designed to honor a truly powerful and breathtaking champion so to limit the amount of challengers would only downgrade the celebration.

To be crowned you not only have to beat the challengers you’ve already faced but the ones that waited until June as well. The Belmont Stakes is long and demanding but overcoming the obstacles is what makes it so legendary.

Written by: Little Brink


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