ESPN ran a marathon of old Kentucky Derby Classics, and after watching several of the races from the 70s and 80s, I came to the conclusion that I missed out on the best Triple Crown runs simply because I had the misfortune to be born in 1987. Actually, that is not a new conclusion for me, but watching the races of years gone by on my big screen TV definitely solidified that thought.
As brave as Eight Belles was in valiantly striding after Big Brown in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, how can she compare with the great Genuine Risk? Not only did Genuine Risk win but she did so in style. After making the lead before the field straightened out for home, she continued for home straight and true, never wavering as she charged down the center of the track to become just the second filly to ever win the nation’s most famous race. She would continue on to finish second in both the Preakness and the Belmont.
Then there is Alysheba who did an Afleet Alex before that colt was even born. With Bet Twice in the lead, jockey Chris McCarron set down the son of Alydar for what would become a very eventful stretch drive. As Alysheba came up to Bet Twice, the Fountain of Youth winner veered out slightly causing Alysheba to clip heels with him. Alysheba promptly recovered and twice more came at Bet Twice, who drifted out each time Alysheba approached him. With Bet Twice finally kept to a straight course, Alysheba was finally able to get past that rival to win by three-quarters of a length.
After a lively discussion centering on post positions on Twitter this morning in which Ferdinand’s win from the rail post was brought up, it was only fitting that the ill-fated Derby winner’s victory was part of the ESPN marathon. Fifty-to-one longshot Black Onyx, who had drawn the rail, was scratched from this year’s Kentucky Derby after it was discovered that he had a bone chip in his left front ankle. That led one Twitter user to call post position one cursed. Sure the past 3 contenders from that spot have not fared well, but post position one used to produce plenty of winners. However, Ferdinand was the last to win from that position.
I have often read Brian Zipse’s recollections of the heralded Sunday Silence/Easy Goer rivalry, but what people generally don’t mention is Sunday Silence’s erratic stretch run in the 1989 Kentucky Derby. Jockey Pat Valenzuela said directly after the race that Sunday Silence has shied away from the crowd noise coming down the stretch. His ducking and weaving did little to deter him, though, as he won by a comfortable margin.
Another Zipse favorite was the sensational Spectacular Bid. Despite General Assembly’s best efforts, The Bid collared him leaving the far turn and it was over from there. In a decade that had already seen three Triple Crown winners, Spectacular Bid was expected to bring the total to four and become the third consecutive winner in as many years. After running 1.54:2 in the Preakness, a time that was officially faster than Secretariat’s disputed time, the nation had all but crowned their new hero. However, a freak accident involving a safety pin prevented The Bid from sweeping the series and began a Triple Crown drought that has yet to be ended.
Last but not least is the trio of Triple Crown winners from the seventies: Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. Each carved their name in history in different ways. Secretariat was the first winner to break the two minute mark, setting a track and stakes record in the process. In doing so, he also ran each quarter mile faster than the last, a feat that has never been matched. Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown while remaining undefeated, the only Triple Crown winner to ever do so. Affirmed made his run at history with the gallant Alydar there with him every step of the way. The pair made history by running the fastest last mile in Belmont Stakes history despite Affirmed setting a tepid early pace.
In 25 years I have yet to see a Triple Crown winner, the last sweep coming 9 years before I was born. Since 1978, there have been many to come so close and just miss. Some of them I remember clearly, some are vague recollections, and others I don’t remember at all. Will this year be the year that a talented and gutsy colt breaks the drought? In a couple weeks we will find out if a Triple Crown win is even possible or if some lucky winner will the end the possibility before the Belmont even rolls around.