And so the pursuit of another Triple Crown continues. The Triple Crown can be described many different ways. However, since the quest has taken a hit in 2012 it leads to the interpretation that it is an impossible feat. Another word that sums things up to date is Curse. But is it? The truth is that the facts don’t lie and right now there aren’t many things that can dismiss this perception.
The 34 years that have passed since Affirmed was crowned in 1978 puts us in the middle of the longest Triple Crown drought of all time. Because the dry spell has carried on this long we’ve also seen more bids unravel in the final leg. Ahead of Secretariat changing the sport in 1973 you had to go back to Citation in 1948 to find the last Triple Crown winner. In those 24 years 7 different horses won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before they were denied at Belmont Park. But when you add 10 more years to a drought and include I’ll Have Another in 2012, the total of Triple Crown near misses since Affirmed has now climbed to 12.
These are just the numbers. Not included are the changes to the sport, the breeding, the increased competition and the limited amount of races a thoroughbred enters compared to the years when we saw 6 Triple Crown winners in 14 years. After taking into account all of these elements, as well as any other factors not mentioned, is when the uncertainties begin to swell. But in a year like 2012 is when the doubts of another Triple Crown reach an all time high.
As you can see the explanations behind the so called curse weren’t just drawn up in the sand. There is a lot of speculation, suspicion and unfortunately too many near misses. But one thing that 2012 may have proved is just how difficult winning the Triple Crown really is. It’s not a test in sports history that was meant to be scored with such ease or regularity. The Triple Crown has had 134 chances to be won. Maybe this sheds more light on how the number of actual champions, 11, should be looked at. I do have my bias opinion but here is where I contend that it will only be a matter of time before the right horse comes along at just the right time. Takeaway #1 – The Triple Crown is very difficult to win but the next is still on the nearby horizon
Takeaway #2 – I respect the decision from team I’ll Have Another. I not only complement their decision to skip the Belmont Stakes due to the tendon injury but also the choice to hang up his racing shoes for good. It is fine for the sport when the health and well-being of the truest athletes in the game are considered first and foremost. This is especially proper in a situation when the dreams of your entire racing career are on the verge coming true. It was a disappointing decision to make but putting I’ll Have Another ahead of the team’s chance of a lifetime was the right call.
I can’t argue the decision to retire I’ll Have Another for two reasons. First is that even after a full recovery the chances that this colt would equal or surpass his 2012 form would be a tall order. Plus the likely hood that the injury could re-surface might be too high. Instead, the option to play your hand with the way the business works is a big win. The biggest return on investment that any horse owner could ever hope for is when they put their horse into the hands of some of the most renowned breeders in the business. The stud fees for a Grade 1 winner and Kentucky Derby champion is a purse unlike any other. So based on that I can understand why Paul Reddam elected to retire his colt in good health and without risk.
Takeaway #3 – Quality Racing. Despite the downfall of losing out on a Triple Crown bid, the racing in all 3 jewels was top-notch. Going into the Kentucky Derby there was a lot of talk about how wide open the race was based more so on the fact that the field was littered with strong contenders. In the end it was an awesome stretch duel and we were lucky to see it all over again 2 weeks later in the Preakness Stakes. I’ll Have Another’s masterful assault on Bodemeister in the stretch will be remembered for years to come. The best horse won but both were equally impressive.
The Belmont Stakes didn’t fall short on excitement either. Watching Union Rags squeeze through the hole along the rail under veteran New York rider Jon Velazquez was a fitting end to a weekend that started out a little bit rough. It was the third race of its kind, a gritty battle down to the wire, and showcased the sport well in front of a national audience.
Takeaway #4 – Classy Representation. Part of racing is losing. We saw our fair share of tough losses but we also saw losers that represented themselves and the sport with a lot of dignity. The first was a trifecta for the same owner, trainer and jockey. It can’t be easy to lose the big one by such a slim margin so to stomach it happening again and then again, is unimaginable. But Zayat Stables, Bob Baffert and Mike Smith all showed why they are considered veterans.
Finally, it’s back to Team I’ll Have Another. The entire team was on this stage for the very first time but you might not have noticed it. There are two things about the team that earned my applause. The first is the composure they displayed when allegations regarding trainer Doug O’Neill came to light and the California Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association announced their ruling. Though Doug O’Neill was not found guilty of any intentional wrong doing the swarm of accusations and media coverage that followed had to be extremely distracting and overwhelming.
“Locker Room Distractions”, as their called in major team sports, can be poisonous in the midst of a run towards the title. It is only when teams keep things under wraps or stay focused on the title that they move on to become champions or valiant contenders. In comparison, team I’ll Have Another did just that.
Then came the time when their composure faced the ultimate heart-break. I think NBC Sports did an outstanding job in covering the Triple Crown and they didn’t miss much. What that meant for Jockey Mario Gutierrez, Trainer Doug O’Neill and Owner Paul Reddam is more questions, more answers and more chances to break down. But in the end they all kept their heads high and did an outstanding job on the national stage.
This final takeaway did a lot of good for the sport. The figures that care most about their athletes and the credibility of thoroughbred racing deserve a thumbs up and we wish them all the best outside of the Triple Crown. It was an unforgettable crown but it won’t be nearly as memorable as the when the curse is broken…………….eventually.
Written by: Little Brink