Smarty Jones never raced past the Belmont Stakes. Nor did Afleet Alex. Poor Barbaro is just trying to survive after the Preakness. This can't be a coincidence.So Jerardi proposes a radical change to the Triple Crown:
The Derby stays right where it is - first Saturday in May. The Preakness goes to the first Saturday in June. The Belmont is run the first Saturday in July. With that, there would be at least 4 weeks between each race. Some years, depending on the calendar, there might be 5 weeks if a Saturday came in the first few days of a month.Not so fast, buster. I’m not going along with this; I’m FAR too much of a traditionalist. Watching the Preakness on a June 5th would remind me of June 12, 1997, that eerie night when the Texas Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants in the first interleague game. I’d hoped right up until the very end that somebody, somewhere would step in and stop this madness before it was too late. Because once that line was crossed, there was no going back.
While we are changing things, get rid of the mile-and-a-half Belmont. Like the 2 weeks, 3 weeks, that is another thing that is never done anymore - except in one race. It's just stupid. The sport has changed. Make the Belmont a mile and a quarter. [Philly Daily News]
The Triple Crown series hasn’t always been quite the same – Sir Barton, the first Triple Crown winner, won the Preakness four days after the Derby, and the Belmont four weeks after that. Oh, yeah, he won the Withers in between. But that’s still three wins in five weeks (in this case, a bit less), and most of us have known it all our lives the way it is now. And there would be no going back if it’s ever changed.
Jerardi is one of many who are telling us that the breed has changed because of too much emphasis on speed. But not everyone believes that. Self-proclaimed Pedigree Goddess Anne Peters contends that "What has changed in recent years is everything but the horse."
She believes trainers from the 1970s -- the last golden era of thoroughbreds, which saw Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed win Triple Crowns in 1973, 1977 and 1978, respectively -- learned under the "old-timey trainers" who worked in the industry during the '30s, '40s and '50s.Regardless of whether the breeders or trainers or anyone else is at fault, there appears to be a problem. That problem is not, however, the fact that nobody has won it since 1978. What would be a problem is if it was won with regularity; then it wouldn’t be special anymore. It’s supposed to be hard, and if it is, so be it. I don’t think that 120,000 people would pack Belmont if it was won every other year.
"I don't think we have trainers learning the same techniques," Peters said. "If you weren't raised and schooled by an old-time horseman, you don't know those tricks." [AP]
The perceived problem is that too many horses that compete in the series break down or retire. Jerardi picks out three in Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Barbaro. But before we destroy an established tradition, has anyone compared the number of breakdowns and injuries sustained by Triple Crown horses as compared to the rest of the horse population? Is it possible that it’s just been magnified because of all the attention? I’m just asking.
Looking back at horses that ran in both the Derby and Preakness last year, two prominent names, Afleet Alex and Closing Argument, never raced after the Triple Crown; High Fly is retired now. But other horses are still in action. Giacomo is one of them, though he hasn’t been very good. Buzzards Bay turned in one of the more impressive performances of the year in the Oaklawn Handicap. [EDIT - Sorry, he did not run in the Preakness; my error.] Sun King won that graded sprint stakes on Blue Grass day. High Limit won two Grade 2’s early in the year. Wilko was huge in the Dubai World Cup. Noble Causeway has recovered from his Saratoga fiasco and put in some nice efforts. Greeley’s Galaxy and Galloping Grocer are still racing. I don’t really know if Going Wild is still in training; but I still can’t believe that Lukas ran him back in the Preakness.
So, at least six out of the ten who ran in the races two weeks apart are still racing, some of them extremely well. I know this is just a one year sample, and I’m not being paid enough to go back through more years at this time. But my point is that in order to determine if there’s a problem, you have to examine the matter statistically and rationally before jumping to conclusions that are based on the emotion of the time. I don’t know that that’s being done in all the post-Preakness hand wringing.
But maybe Jerardi turns out to be right, and the series is just too grueling for the modern day horse? And that we’re going to have too many more Barbaros if the series isn’t spaced and the Belmont not shortened? Well, then, do it. Just don’t call it the Triple Crown anymore. While it would still be challenging, you just wouldn’t be able to give a horse who won it the same title of Triple Crown Champion as the ones who had the class and endurance to win it as it was meant to be.
- Ms. Peters chalks the injury up not to flaws in Barbaro's breeding, but to plain “bad luck.”
"Dynaformer," Peters said of Barbaro's sire, "has tremendous bone like you rarely see on a thoroughbred. He gets horses that can run across parking lots." [Albany Times-Union]