Photo: Timothy A. Clary / 2004 AFP
never a topic that I look forward to diving back into. But, now that the bid
for the next Triple Crown is off the table, here we go again. It has now been
35 years since Affirmed was crowned. What that means as it relates to 2013 is
that we still find ourselves in the exact same place; a very long drought.
first ever Triple Crown champion was Sir Barton in 1919, 44 years after
the Kentucky Derby began and the Triple Crown prize became available. Since
that time we have seen 10 other 3-yr-olds overcome the “Test of a Champion”.
Within these historic achievements however, never has there been a
time where so many years passed before we celebrated again. The grueling
drought has been tested over the last 35 years but because the riddle has yet
to be solved, the current dry spell has now been pushed to 11 years longer than
of Secretariat changing the sport in 1973 you have to go back to Citation in
1948 to find the last Triple Crown winner. Over those 24 long years a total of 7 horses won
the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, before they were denied in the Belmont Stakes. What happened next was legendary. Racing against the odds Secretariat was the eighth
contender attempting to join Citation but neither the Belmont field nor Belmont Park had
a chance at stopping him. Secretariat ruled the day, broke records and left
a remarkable story to tell.
what does this drought, and how it ended, have to do with the current one?
It’s not the answer I was hoping for but all I can really come up with is: Not
much. After the heart breaking injury to I’ll Have Another in 2012 the amount
of horses that were able to claim the first two jewels of the Triple Crown
since 1978 climbed to 12. And since eight of those have occurred since Silver Charm in 1997 it probably means that days of old are long gone.
but then again…..maybe not. As I mentioned earlier, the ongoing quest for the
holy grail of horse racing is not my favorite thing to write about. But despite
the amount of close calls, near misses, speculation and doubts, I still believe
that it will only be a matter of time before the right horse comes along at
just the right time.
that sounds pretty easy. Not really. Why it may be rather effortless to hypothesize,
we all know that this challenge is far beyond difficult. So, if I agree that it
is tougher than any other in sports then why do I think we will see another
Triple Crown winner sooner than most? That is a great question, let me tell you why so that you can decide if you agree.
to this day I can’t forget just how close it has been. As if three quarters of a length in 1997 wasn't close enough, the following year the quest was rejected by the slimmest margin possible. The gut wrenching defeat that Real Quiet
and his connections suffered to their rival Victory Gallop was unforgettable in so many ways. Mainly we can't forget that it was only a nose that separated Real Quiet from joining Affirmed 20 years later. But, the photo wasn’t wrong and the Triple Crown could not be awarded.
years later we were swept up in the story that was Smarty Jones. The undefeated
kid from Pennsylvania was certainly something special. The more you watched him
race and the more he won the more you began to believe that the Belmont Stakes
would be his. But again, a close call went the other direction. This time it
was a length that denied Smarty Jones from becoming the next but it was that
margin that also makes my point.
agree that there a many valid arguments as to why a Triple Crown
champion will not happen within this era of modern racing. From breeding and training, to not racing enough (or too much), to racing surfaces or the amount of time between the three
jewels are examples of points that I think are fair. But, when considering
them further, along with others that are out there, I still can’t see where they prevented Silver Charm, Real Quiet or Smarty Jones from finishing on the other side of their close calls.
my point: If it was only a nose that divided it from happening in 1998 then why
can’t it happen in 2014?
final argument is pretty basic but in sports some really good things can happen
with very simple goals. In horse racing, the goal for many breeders, trainers,
owners and riders is to be a part of the next Triple Crown. It’s hard for me to
believe that the team connected to any recent Kentucky Derby champion didn’t
think that it was a possibility at some point along the trail or after they won
roses. Whether it was during a day dreaming session (those can be awesome) or
just a quick thought, the idea of a Triple Crown may have surfaced.
I may be pretty old school in my final argument but I do think if a team wants
it bad enough that they can put their heads together and figure out how to pass
the Test of a Champion. Again, I won’t disregard how hard that test is. I know it’s
a brutal marathon that is rarely raced to such perfection but, with a very
biased opinion, I do believe that the mystery will soon be solved. Do you?
Near Misses since Affirmed in 1978 - Belmont Stakes Result
- 1979 - Spectacular Bid - 3rd
- 1981 - Pleasant Colony - 3rd
- 1987 - Alysheba - 4th
- 1989 - Sunday Silence - 2nd
- 1997 - Silver Charm - 2nd
- 1998 - Real Quiet - 2nd
- 1999 - Charismatic - 3rd
- 2002 - War Emblem - 8th
- 2003 - Funny Cide - 3rd
- 2004 - Smarty Jones - 2nd
- 2008 - Big Brown - DNF
- 2012 - I'll Have Another - Did Not Start (Injury)