As a child of the seventies, to say I saw my fair share
of equine heroes is an understatement. Spending many of my childhood Saturdays
at Belmont Park was heaven on earth for a young fan of great horses. Autumns at
the grand track provided the chance to see dozens of top horses each and every season.
But as good and as memorable as those Septembers and Octobers growing up were,
nothing could match the magic of the Triple Crown. Seeing Secretariat turn into
a superhero within two minutes and twenty four seconds transformed grown men
into little boys, while adult women were reduced to tears. That race, and those
moments, are my oldest tangible memory.
It was different in 1978. I was older. Reading the
Daily Racing Form was old hat by then and I was acutely aware of the
magnificent rivalry of Affirmed and Alydar. While the way Secretariat did it
was nothing short of awe inspiring, there was also a level of mystery in the
air. No horse had been able to win the Triple Crown for 25 years, and all of a
sudden there he was. Secretariat’s Belmont may have been the greatest
performance ever in racing, but it also broke through a barrier that had begun
to seem unbreakable.
Affirmed, on the other hand, was the third Triple Crown winner within six years, coming just one season after Seattle Slew. Because of this,
winning the Crown did not carry quite the same cachet as the first Triple Crown
I saw. No matter. What Affirmed did have was Alydar. The rivalry was as good as
it gets, and that Belmont will undoubtedly go down as the greatest race of my
lifetime. Alydar’s excellence allowed for Affirmed’s courageousness to come
shining through. Different than Secretariat, but Affirmed was a superhero
Now we come to I’ll Have Another, in a time when racing
has its share of problems. Political, economic, what have you, the sport can no
longer hide any dirty little secrets that were previously swept under the rug.
He also comes along at a time when that barrier that Secretariat was able to
bust through is now stronger than ever. Who could have known that a third of a
century would pass without another Triple Crown winner since Affirmed doggedly
fought off the advances of Alydar. So the question becomes not only if I’ll
Have Another can do it, but also what will winning the Triple Crown mean for
Since I and so many others have already written about
his chances to win the 2012 Belmont Stakes, I would like to instead address the
second part of that question.
With as many interesting backstories as there are in
racing, for me it still always comes down to one thing … the horse. If I’ll
Have Another is good enough to win Saturday it will be the greatest
accomplishment in our sport in well, 34 years. Whether or not you believed in
him in February, April, after the Preakness, or you still don’t believe, you
better recognize that I’ll Have Another is deserving of every accolade he
receives if he becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.
It has not been easy, (the talent of Bodemeister saw to
that) and it will not be easy. Good horses like Dullahan and Union Rags, have
been given time to refresh themselves since the Derby. Not to mention the
distance of the Belmont can be cruel and one that most of these horses will
never see again. Whenever there is a Triple Crown on the line, the Belmont
truly becomes the Test of a Champion. Since Affirmed, eleven horses have been tested,
and eleven horses have been turned away. If I’ll Have Another wins the Belmont,
the Triple Crown will be well earned.
Will the magnificent feat save the sport of horse
racing? I don’t really care. I am among the minority that believes it doesn’t
need saving. Improvements yes, but saving no. I have loved watching the horses
my entire life, and no matter what happens on Saturday, that will not change.
Sure, a Triple Crown would bring a new spotlight to the sport. More fans will
discover the excitement of racing, and many good things will be written about I’ll
Have Another. Of course, many bad things will also be written about racing, but
for me it is all about the horse.
I want to be transformed into a little boy
again on Saturday. I want to see the tears flow. I need a hero.