Eleven Triple Crown Dreams Dashed - Part 1

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 listen.


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 tracks.


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 Crown tries: 

  • Silver Charm, 1997
  • Real Quiet, 1998
  • Charismatic, 1999


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 them off.


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 stride.


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.


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Older Comments about Eleven Triple Crown Dreams Dashed - Part 1...

1997 silver charm, what an awesome horse. You can see the horse notice Touch Gold and kick it into another gear, but too little to late
The won word that describes my anticipation about watching the Belmont: TREPIDATION
Just a reminder of how very tough it is to win the Crown!
So many really good horses that have failed since 1978 ... this article is not helping my confidence. Be patient, Mario ... Be patient.

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