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HRN Original Blog:
55,000 Furlongs to the Finish

The Forgotten Triple Crown

Kelso 615 X 400
Photo: LIFE - George Silk

 

Perception is everything. In the current age of racing, there are near endless rationalizations of why a young, sound horse would be retired to stud. Some say business, some say risk management, some say physical ailment, some say mental fortitude of the animal and its drive to compete. The list can go on and on. As racing fans, we get limited information and left to draw our own conclusions. In a recent, very passionate article by HRN’s Brian Zipse, he expresses his concerns about the growing trend of early, unexplained retirement of 3-year old horses and its effect on the industry. As a follow up to Mr. Zipse’s column a thought was proposed to remove the age restriction of the Triple Crown races.

 

We all love to reflect upon the “good old days” of the Sport of Kings. No matter the decade, the premise is the same. The good old days can be defined as the time when horses were run for the sport of competition, and not because of the potential of the huge sums of money that could be made with the stud value a winner.

 

Circling back to the idea of a non-age restricted Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, this seems like the perfect reason to keep horses in training past the age of three. However, there is another series of races that does exist that has an even smaller fraternity of winners than the 11 horses that have achieved the immortality as an American Turf’s Triple Crown Champion.

 

The series that I am referencing is made up of the Metropolitan Handicap, the Suburban Handicap, and the Brooklyn Handicap. Appropriately coined as the Handicap Triple Crown, it has also been referenced as the New York Handicap Triple. This series has lost its moment in the spotlight in recent times, however each race on its own is considered a great accomplishment for a horse and potential stallion.

 

It can be argued that it is more challenging for a horse to win the three handicap races in a single year than it is for a 3-year old to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. In the 122 years that the Handicap Triple Crown has existed, only 4 horses have managed to accomplish the achievement of winning it. Whisk Broom II was the first to sweep the title in 1913. The second horse was Tom Fool in 1953. Further cementing the immortality of Kelso (pictured above), he was the third horse to achieve the feat in 1961. And rounding out the elite group was Fit to Fight in 1984. There are not as many horses aiming at the challenge of the Handicap triple as the 3 year old classics, but there are many of the best horses in our history that have tried and failed. In the 5 consecutive years that Kelso won Horse of the Year, he was only able to achieve the feat once. Forego was never able to string together the three wins in 4 years of trying. Buckpasser, Assault, and In Excess all managed to win two of the three, but were unable to complete the sweep.

 

The handicap races are not contested over the same 5-week timespan of the Triple Crown for 3 year olds, and all the races are run in the same state. Throughout history they have ranged in distance, and been held at various locations across New York, but the task has never been considered “easier” to accomplish. To win the Handicap Triple Crown in today’s age, the horse must be able to demonstrate the speed to win the 8 furlong Metropolitan (aka Met Mile), the class to carry that speed over the 9 furlong distance of the Suburban, and the stamina to stay a full tour of the dirt track at Big Sandy for the 12 furlong Brooklyn. To add further difficulty, under handicap conditions, each race will be contested with the horse carrying sequentially increased weights. There is also the lack of age restrictions, which helps create and continue the rivalries that fans love, and competition that proves a horse’s mettle.

 

I do believe removing the age restriction of the standard Triple Crown could help racing keep its horses in training. However, rather than change one of the greatest traditions in our sport, I would like to suggest that racing, specifically the NYRA, market something else. Imagine if each of these handicap races carried a Grade 1 status and had a purse to match that of their younger counterparts.

 

Currently the Met Mile is the only Grade 1 in the series, and also carries the largest purse at $750,000. But the Suburban and Brooklyn have lost the prestige that they once held. Each race carries significant weight (no pun intended) toward building a future stallion’s resume, but wins in the 3-year old Classics are still more desirable. What happened to the times when 3 year olds used the Met Mile as an alternative race to Preakness or Belmont Stakes?

 

This makes a horse like Shackleford very interesting as a stallion prospect, because he is one of two horses at stud with wins in both Triple Crown series (2011 Preakness Stakes; 2012 Met Mile). The other stallion currently at stud is Lemon Drop Kid (1999 Belmont Stakes; 2000 Brooklyn Handicap). I use both of these horses as examples that ran successful 3-year old campaigns and continued to build on their talents in very successful 4-year old seasons.

 

Are Holy Bull and Honour and Glory really the last three year olds we’ll ever see win the Met Mile? I certainly hope not, but as long as the publicity, purse money, prestige, and perceived stud value rest in the 3 year old classics, the sport will continue its habit of early retirement of sound and highly talented horses.

 

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Older Comments about The Forgotten Triple Crown...

take a page out of the Qipco Champions Series, The Global Sprint Challenge etc etc. A Series of races for each division. Then load up the purses and Market the heck out of it.
I would like a series of races like the old Championship Racing Series for older horses, actually in every division of racing. It would be better in my opinion to have the races all around the country not just in New York. Anyway the idea of a handicap triple crown would not work today since no trainer wants to run with added weight, most of the handicaps today are run with the high weight actually carrying less weight than in weight for age races. Handicaps, with real weights, are a thing of the past.
Excellent Lisa! Glad you cashed. :)
Blabs ,after Sigmond it was the Viola show and Pancho. They dominated the claiming game.
Hey Jay!! I have been wanting to see you around to tell you that I did stick with your boy WTC and had him in my bets. First time in my life hitting a nice one in the Classic. WTC is the real deal and deserves all honors. He tangled with the big boys and showed up with Mucho. Big dance!! Huge!!
Sigmund the Seamonster brought nice ones to SA every winter. Didn’t get the Carnero’s show but was able to see Megatron vs Da Bear’s and my 1st look at Kyle {Big little Howie} Long doing an admirable job at right guard on Suh, quick feet.
..That's the main thing.
tom, it may be so bright you'll need a welders mask. As long as they PELT the Cowboys...That
tom, it may be so bright you'll need a welders mask. As long as they PELT the Cowboys...That
Lke the tune goes ,Future is so bright,we gotta wear shades. Today i actually watched 3 quarters.Quoting Al Pacino in Godfather III,they are pulling me back in. Need the Saints to win badly tonight, Then it gets interesting.Sorry Goblin,no disrespect intended. Jay,Amino is on cloud 9.Rams put a spanking to the horseshoes.
tom...how 'bout those G-men!?!
Nathan ,don't tell me you were a Pancho fan with your bias towards Sham.
Buds, i am sure you know by now that when it comes to racing horses i am more on the conservative side,than that of pushung the envelope. There are many different ways to look at it.I understand from a fans point of view,they always want to see their favorites run. You bring up Oxbow as a horse that ran in all 3. My theory on that is(and i am not saying i am right) .Those 3 efforts contributed to his getting injured,he went through so much stress that it finally caught up with him.My theory has always been,it is not eally how many times you race,but the quality or stress from a major effort. Oxbow in my opinion,might of run the most impressive race by any 3yo in any 3yo race this year during the Belmont Stakes. In making his 3rd start in 5 weeks and running in a distance that many could not handle.He got into a duel with 2 fresh horses. He put them away and held off all the horses but one. I think that day he showed me at least,that if he survived the race and recovered. He might of been the best 3yo to race this year.
TM I agree it makes it tough to run 3 in 5 weeks, I am actually in the camp of leave it the way it is. Hoever, this years a good example, had Oxbow not got hurt, his good performance in all 3 races may have helped him go on to win 3 year old division, which is something to strive for in the breeding end of it. So running in all 3 and not winning all 3 could still be advantagous to the horses resume.
Well put, Buck! I might be biased but Sham sure seemed great to me.
Amino. When great was only second best?
Sorry, Orb, this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you but we both want you to get laid next year, right?
Thank you! I have been suggesting this on forums for quite some time as an incentive to keep older horses in training! All three races used to be grade 1's and if they were restored to that staus with a bonus for winning all three and a lot of publicity and a handicap triple trophy, I think it could help some. They used to be run in May, June then July and if they are not still, that should be restored also. The 3 year old triple crown should NOT be altered lest is lose it's prestige. I also believe if the Jockey Club would not allow horses to begin breeding until they are 5, that would help solve the problem. The only exception could be if they had an injury prior that would not allow them to continue racing (not something small that would heal but owners today opt for retirement instead of waiting). Can someone with some say-so in the industry please suggest these things to these organizations?
Critique his Belmont as you will but Sham was every bit the vanquished triple crown winner in his year that Alydar was in his… do I need to add imo?
Believe it for Woody Stephens was a very strong race horse.He definately was born on the wrong year.

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Meet Matt Scott 

My horseracing journey began when I was 16 years old and my mom took me to Hollywood Park. Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time, the experience stuck with me forever. 10 years later, during one of my many international business trips to Hong Kong, I visited Sha Tin racetrack to watch the races. This is where my true passion began. 

 

Holding a masters degree in mechanical engineering, the puzzle of handicapping intrigued me. I have made a career of making decisions based on trends, patterns, and formulas, which is why I think I was initially drawn to the sport. However, I have truly learned to appreciate the horses and how magnificent they are as athletes. 

 

I currently live in San Jose, CA, and when not following racing, I like to spend time with my wife, mountain bike, and design high-speed bicycles that I build and race For reference, 55,000 furlongs is the distance from Hong Kong to my home in San Jose. Also, I have 1-year-old dachshund (aka wiener dog) that I am training to race in the annual Wiener Nationals held at Golden Gate Fields.   

 

The purpose of this blog is to help give people the viewpoint of a fan that is newer to the sport and eager to learn. I like to respectfully speak my mind, and often the ideas come out of left field, which could give a fresh perspective on a sport rich with tradition and history. hope to represent the many future fans that I wish to follow my footsteps into the Sport of Kings.