History, tradition, story telling, our sport is riddled with it all, and as we approach the 12th potential Triple Crown winner
we start recalling the first Triple Crown bids we witnessed. I have heard endless stories over the past few days of fans that had eye witness accounts of Secretariat winning the crown or of watching Affirmed go on to capture theTriple Crown. Mixed in with those stories are the disappointing stories from fans that remember all too well that Sunday Silence failed, Smarty Jones couldn’t get there and Silver Charm didn’t have the heart that day. But every fan remembers their first Triple Crown experience; it’s time for me to tell you mine.
In 2011 the Breeders Cup Juvenile was full of horses with talent, impressive young resumes and big dreams. The speedy Hansen came out on top that day but I remember being ultra impressed by the runner up Union Rags and the third place finisher was no slouch either. I thought that if these 3 kept healthy and made the Derby we could in fact see a Triple Crown winner.
Juvenile Champ Hansen came back to battle in the Holy Bull Stakes, the Gotham and the Toyota Blue Grass before going into the Derby. By then I think it was evident that he may not be Kentucky Derby material, but he was entered just the same and placed only 9th.
Runner up Union Rags, with his flashy resume, jumped back on the Derby Trail with a win in the Fountain of Youth. I was always fond of that horse and was a little nervous about his regular jockey opting to go with Algorithms, but Leparoux was able to find the winners circle that day in Florida. Unfortunately,that would be the last time Leparoux was able to find the winners circle with the large Dixie Union colt and he settled for third and seventh in the Florida and Kentucky Derby respectively.
Creative Cause was the horse I thought would be the most memorable on the Derby trail from the west coast. He finished 3rd in the San Vicente, 1st in the San Felipe and 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby behind our eventual hero, I’ll Have Another.
As for the rest of the field, who can remember it was so long ago but I know Bodemeiste rturned the whole Derby picture upside down with his breathtakingly brilliant performance in the Arkansas Derby and then there was Dullahan who impressed with his closing kick to beat out Hansen in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Both of these horses were hardly on my radar before that but then I had to start considering that if they were to win the Derby, would there be a Triple Crown winner?
I was slow to dismiss either one because I thought 2012 would be that magical year where Triple Crown wishes came true. Of course I thought it was going to be Union Rags that would silence all the haters of the greatest sport alive and come charging through like a hero. But after the Derby, it was not meant to be. At least it was not meant to be Union Rags;instead my hopes fell upon the shoulders of a 25 year old jockey and his horse, I’ll Have Another.
I was skeptical heading into the Preakness (but I still put money on him just in case) felling like I would have to wait another year. I can remember it like it was only a week ago, the second favorite I’ll Have Another
was gearing up to take on the ultra impressive Bodemeister in a race that was fit just for Bode. Despite winning against Bodemeister in the Derby, the horse still did not have the respect of the betting public. But breaking out of the gate the ever so calm jockey guided his heart of a champion horse around the Pimlico Track in good position. Turning for home they would find themselves in a stretch duel for the ages taking on Bob Baffert’s wonder horse and his hallof fame jockey, Mike Smith.
Down the stretch they came; first I thought that IHA wouldn’t get there, then he looked like he was coming on strong and with 1 furlong left to go it appeared that Bodemeister was going to make me wait another year to witness a Triple Crown. Then I have no idea what happened,but IHA started making up ground, he was closing on Bodemeister and as they reached the finish line I was screaming too loud to hear the call but it appeared I’ll Have Another made it up in time to finish first.
There was a quick photo that showed I’ll Have Another finished first by a neck over Bodemeister. After that the celebration began, fans spoke of all the reasons they love the sport, people who never watched were asking about the horses and the sport and of course, the negative people were ready to break any story they could about this IHA team. But for weeks after, we celebrated.
The 2012 Belmont Stakes
came and nerves were high; I don’t know how the jockey or trainer was feeling but by then my nerves were shot. The only thing standing in the way of our great I’ll Have Another and the history books were about 12 other horses. But I think the biggest obstacles in his way were the inexperienced jock on a Belmont track, Dullahan and my Union Rags.
But the humble jock climb aboard his mount and they made their way to the track while a sold out crowd sang “New York, New York”. I was still trying to calm my nerves as they loaded into the gate, but as the gate doors flew open and they all broke I couldn’t keep myself calm anymore. A million things raced through my head; ‘what if he wins’ or ‘what if he doesn’t’ or ‘why is the Belmont so long’. I waited there, holding my breath with 50 million of my closest friends also watching at home. They turned for home and I’ll Have Another was still in a great spot, he was making up some ground on Union Rags who had been out a little ahead of him. The only thing he had to do was make sure his kick and his heart was bigger than Dullahan’s. They came closer and closer to the finish line and finally with about 150 yards to go our hero started to rally. He was making up ground, but so was Dullahan, then finally at the wire….
Well, I know it isn’t past yet but this is my first Triple Crown bid and this is the story I will tell the next generation of horseracing fans. So what’s your story?