By Tony Bada Bing
Just a year removed from the thrilling Triple Crown series
between Affirmed and Alydar, a bargain-basement colt named Spectacular Bid made
his way to Belmont with convincing victories in the first two jewels, and was primed to become another Triple Crown winner. But then a couple of bizarre events befell the ‘Bid before the
big race including his jockey Ronnie Franklin getting into a fist-fight with
leading jockey Angel Cordero a few days before the race, and the horse stepping
on a safety pin that became imbedded in his hoof on the day of the Belmont Stakes.
No matter, Spectacular Bid went off as an overwhelming
favorite, raced aggressively and was put to the front by Franklin before the
six-furlong marker. You can watch the tiring finish by Spectacular Bid, in
which third was the best he could do. Of course, he came back the following
year to be Horse of the Year at four.
In the spring of 1981, Pleasant Colony came from nowhere.
Underperforming on the Florida circuit, his breeder/owner Thomas Mellon Evans,
switched his Virginia-bred’s training regimen over to a loud and proud New York
trainer, John Campo. Campo, whose bravado and talent, to back it up, raised
himself to the pentathlon of the New York sports scene on par with Reggie
Jackson and Joe Namath with Pleasant Colony’s Triple Crown bid. For during that
spring of a new decade, he bragged up his Derby entrant to anyone that would
Like Namath, Campo guaranteed victory in both the Derby and
Preakness and delivered wins in both. Unapologetic for his blunt and colorful
quips, Campo reminded legendary ABC broadcaster and horsemen, Jim McKay, that
he could train a horse. Thus, opening the door for other New Yorkers – Bobby
Frankel and Nick Zito – to train with the mucky-mucks with boarding school
names and bloodlines.
His Pleasant Colony finished a distant third to Summing that
year, when the eventual winner nursed easy middle fractions on his way to
winning. Pleasant Colony dropped back to last in the race and never threatened.
Alysheba was a decent sort coming into the 1987 Kentucky
Derby. The son of Alydar was stakes-placed at two with just a maiden win to his
resume, which didn’t really merit his half a million dollar purchase price –
that is when $500,000 was well, worth a lot more. His first win of his
three-year-old season came on the first Saturday in May. (Actually he finished
first in the prestigious Blue Grass Stakes, in a blanket finish but was placed
third through disqualification for ducking out near the sixteenth pole and
interfering with Leo Castelli.)
Alysheba’s Derby win is the stuff of legend – clipping heels
near the top of the stretch, similar to Afleet Alex’s Preakness win in 2004,
jockey Chris McCarron and Alysheba almost came crashing down. A quick recovery
led to an easy win. Two weeks later, Alysheba’s trainer, Jack Van Berg took the
heat of the national media when his charge put up less than average workout
times. Van Berg’s response about slow works has been oft repeated, “Time only
matters when you’re serving it.”
Speaking of time, both Alysheba’s Derby and Preakness were
more ordinary than historic. No matter, he won both and headed to the Belmont
as another Triple Crown hopeful. Beyond questions of getting the 12-furlong
distance, Alysheba had to contend with running without the aid of Lasix – the
anti-bleeding medication, now given with the same regularity of say, drinking
water – which was banned in New York until 1995.
Somehow, some way, jockey Chris McCarron found racing
trouble in the Belmont and never really recovered. Two-time runner up, Bet
Twice ended the Triple Crown run in very anticlimactic fashion romping home by
14 lengths under Craig Perret. Alysheba was fourth.
The Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer/West Coast vs. East Coast
rivalry was the stuff made exactly for televised sports. Maybe it was the
upstart Arthur B. Hancock shunning his family’s preeminent breeding operation,
Claiborne Farm, to branch out on his own to breed Sunday Silence vs. the
august, East Coast horse racing family operation dating back to prohibition,
the Phipps’ with their own litiney of champions and Easy Goer prepared to be
the next. Any way you slice it, ABC Sports played up the rivalry in every and
anyway, even posting both horses’ odds at the respective east and west coast
Sunday Silence easily defeated Easy Goer in the Derby and
then the two lived up to all the hype locking into a ding-dong, back-and-forth
battle from the three-quarter pole through the finish in the 1989 Preakness
Stakes. Jockey Pat Day aboard Easy Goer claimed foul against Pat Valenzuela
riding Sunday Silence. Valenzuela simply said “Day tried to screw me all the
way around the track. For my money, it’s the best Triple Crown race, ever.
The Belmont Stakes was strikingly anticlimactic – Easy Goer
destroyed the field and Sunday Silence romping home and finishing with the
second fastest time for the 1 ½ miles. Easy Goer would go on to win the Whitney
and Travers (an uncommon double) and Sunday Silence the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Almost ten years later, there were three consecutive Triple
Silver Charm was described by his trainer, Bob Baffert, as a
ham sandwich compared with the more regally bred horses he’d later get to
train. The modest breeding didn’t matter when the wire was coming near because
Silver Charm always tried to out-finish any competitor he could see.
The problem in the 1997 Belmont Stakes was that Silver Charm
and his jockey, Gary Stevens never saw their greatest competition, as Touch
Gold closed steadily four paths out into the center of the track. Watch the
replay and it appears McCarron had plenty of room and time aboard Touch Gold to
get just inside of Silver Charm, instead he chose the long way around. Stevens
lamented that if he or his horse only Touch Gold coming they could have held
It was dejavu all over again for trainer, Bob Baffert and
his latest Triple Crown threat, Real Quiet. A surprise winner of the Derby, but
convincing winner of the Preakness, Real Quiet look poised to take down the
Crown. In fact when his rider, Kent Desormeaux put Real Quiet to the front
heading into the stretch and he opened up by as much as six lengths - the crowd
roared, the wire was in view, but Victory Gallop the Derby and Preakness runner
up had mounted a bid from tenth and dug into Real Quiet’s lead with every
The two hit the wire together, track announcer Tom Durkin
had no idea who won, the photo sign went up and the crowd first waited quietly
and then, slowly mounted towards a hushed frenzy before Victory Gallop’s number
was put on top.
Part II will take a look at the last five to try and fail at completing a Triple Crown sweep.