June 11, 2014

Triple Crown: harder and harder

Well, the Belmont Stakes has come and gone for another year, and, as everybody who has ventured out of the basement in the past few days knows, 2014 did not deliver a Triple Crown in the sport of horse racing.

But it did deliver a powerful injection of popular interest in people who otherwise wouldn’t have known a furlong from a filly.

Every time a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and, three weeks later, the Preakness Stakes, all eyes in America turn to Elmont, Long Island, to witness yet another quest for racing’s Triple Crown.

The three races combined offer a fascinating challenge for any equine athlete: the stampede of the 20-horse field in the Derby, a mile and a quarter; the virtual sprint in the Preakness, a mile and three-sixteenths; and the marathon of the Belmont, a mile and a half.

Any horse that can prevail in that five-week trial deserves a hallowed place in horse racing history.

The horse would join the likes of Sir Barton, the first Triple Crown winner in 1919; Whirlaway; and the immortal Secretariat, among others.

In the 1970s, three horses swept all three races, giving the impression it wasn’t all that hard to do. But no horse has done it since — 36 years have elapsed since Affirmed last did it in 1978.

Thirteen times since then, a horse has won the Derby and Preakness only to fail in the Belmont.

This year, unlikely superstar California Chrome seemed to have the ingredients and the situation. But, like all the others since 1978, he came up short.

In his effort, though, he infused Americans with a shot of vigor for the sport. People who didn’t even care about horse racing tuned in to the broadcast. It was the main topic on social media that day, with everyone rooting for the California horse.

Text Only | Photo Reprints