June 6, 2012
By Anthony Stabile
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Triple Crown Failures
Many say horse racing’s Triple Crown is the toughest feat in all of sports. When you think about it, winning three races at three different tracks at three different distances in five weeks seems to be truly impossible. If you manage to win the Roses, it’s off to Baltimore where you get to cut back in distance to 1 3/16 miles and go from a Churchill Downs course that plays fairly even to a speed biased Pimlico course that can be tricky at times, to say the least. There certainly isn’t as much fanfare, there are still plenty of drunks though, but with just two weeks and a 500-mile trip in between starts, there is still plenty to deal with.
First stop, Kentucky. Save a few instances where a horse ships in from overseas, none of the three year olds have ever carried 126 pounds or raced past 1 1/8 miles. Now they have to carry that impost and navigate the classic distance of 1 Ľ miles. Throw in the University of Louisville Marching Band playing “My Old Kentucky Home” with easily over 100,000 screaming, mostly drunk, fans singing along, and you have yourself the Kentucky Derby. Physical and mental toughness are an absolute must.
Should you grab the first two jewels, the “Test of the Champion” awaits. You get three weeks between starts this time and less of a van ride but all 1 ˝ miles of Big Sandy awaits. Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens once made me walk around the track at Belmont, stopped me at the quarter pole and said” imagine having done all of that (everything I’ve already mentioned) and still having to do this.” To me, it seemed like the wire was a world away.
It’s astonishing that eleven have already done it, in some shape or form. Here’s a look at racing’s most exclusive club, the one I’ll Have Another would join with a win in Belmont Stakes 144 at Belmont Park this Saturday.
SIR BARTON – 1919
Preps? Who needs preps? A maiden going into the Run for the Roses, Sir Barton was making his first start of the year in the Kentucky Derby, a race he was entered in as a rabbit for his more championed stablemate Billy Kelly. The problem was someone forgot to tell Sir Barton and his rider Johnny Loftus that he was supposed to stop instead of draw off to a five length win in the Derby. Another front running score followed in the Preakness before Sir Barton rated off the pace to win the Withers in between the Preakness and Belmont. Loftus employed the same rating tactics in the Belmont en route to an easy score making Sir Barton the first horse to win the three races that now make up the Triple Crown.
GALLANT FOX – 1930
Trainer “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons became a bit of a training pioneer when he used a seven race two-year-old campaign to build a foundation for the three-year-old classics. It paid off as Earl Sande piloted Gallant Fox to a ľ length win in the Preakness, run before the Derby that year, a two length Derby victory and a wire to wire score in the Belmont by three lengths.
OMAHA - 1935
When your father is Triple Crown champ Gallant Fox, expectations are high. And while he won just once in his juvenile season, Omaha came around in his sophomore year. After drawing away to win both the Derby and Preakness, Omaha fell 1 ˝ lengths short in the Withers before returning to his winning ways with a gutsy Belmont Stakes victory making him and Gallant Fox the only father-son combination to win the Triple Crown.
WAR ADMIRAL – 1937
War Admiral led every step of the way in all three jewels of the Triple Crown in the spring of ’37 under jockey Charlie Kurtsinger and in fact won all eight starts that season. In all, he 21 of 26 career starts but he’ll best remembered for losing the most famous match race in history to the legendary Seabiscuit at Pimlico.
WHIRLAWAY – 1941
One of the most dangerous horses of all time, both literally and figuratively, Whirlaway had a penchant for bearing out terribly in the stretch before lugging back in just as dramatically, often giving his rider fits. For the Derby, the great Ben Jones changed the blinkers and reached out for Eddie Accaro and was rewarded for his decision with an eight length romp in the Derby. A 5 ˝ length Preakness score followed by an allowance romp set him up perfectly for the Belmont, which he won by 2 1/2 lengths.
COUNT FLEET – 1943
Nearly sold as a two-year-old due to his clumsiness, jockey Johnny Longden convinced the owners to keep the colt and his advice paid off handsomely. Count Fleet won the Derby by 9 lengths, the Preakness by 8 lengths and the Belmont by an eye-popping 25 lengths in what would be the final start of his career under Longden, who rode the colt in every one of his 21 career starts.
ASSAULT – 1946
Nicknamed “The Clubfooted Comet: due to a malformed right front hoof, Assault overcame all sorts of problems both on and off the racetrack on his way to a sweep. After winning the Derby by 8 lengths, jockey Warren Mehrtens decided to make a premature move in the Preakness after getting bothered at the start before holding on for a neck victory. More trouble waited at Belmont as he stumbled at the start and was last in the early going before exploding past the field to win by 3 lengths.
CITATION – 1948
Racing’s first millionaire had little trouble sweeping the Triple Crown with Accaro aboard. At one point in his career, Citation rattled off 16 straight scores, a feat duplicated at the top level of the sport most famously in 1995 and 1996 by the great Cigar.
SECRETARIAT – 1973
Horse of the Year at two, Secretariat turned the Triple Crown events in to one of the most brilliant showcases in all of sports. He broke the track record, going every quarter of a mile faster, in the Derby with a 2 ˝ length score before a timer malfunction deprived him of the course record at Pimlico in the Preakness which he won by the same 2 ˝ lengths. Then, in the most historic race the Sport of Kings has ever seen, Secretariat turned in arguably the most impressive performance in the history of sports with a world record setting Belmont score that saw him cross the wire 31 lengths ahead of his closest rival, turning the “Test of the Champion” into a one-horse show under Ron Turcotte.
SEATTLE SLEW – 1977
The only horse to remain undefeated through the Triple Crown, Seattle Slew was purchased for the bargain basement price of $17,500 as a two-year-old before winning all three events in impressive, wire-to-wire fashion under Jean Cruget. He was the last living Triple Crown winner until his death on May 7th, 2002 which was the 25th anniversary of his Derby triumph.
AFFIRMED – 1978
Affirmed was part of the sports’ greatest rivalry, having defeated the equally impressive Alydar in all three events. Under Steve “The Kid” Cauthen, the youngest rider to win the Triple Crown at the age of 17, Affirmed won the Derby by 1 ˝ lengths and the Preakness by a neck before coming to Belmont with a chance to complete the sweep. In one of the most memorable Belmont Stakes moments, Affirmed and Alydar were never more than a length apart for the entire 1 ˝ miles with Affirmed battling back along the inside to get his head back in front of a stubborn Alydar to complete the sweep.
HORSE RACING EXPERT
Mike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year round as well as Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the Triple Crown, and the Breeders’ Cup.
Last Year Mike had a solid Triple Crown, correctly picking the winning horse in 2 of 3 races. He selected I'll Have another to win The Preakness, and nailed Union Rags to win the Belmont Stakes as his top pick.
Mike has also had past succes in the Kentucky Derby, winning with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and rode his top picks, Super Saver and Street Sense, to the finish line in 2010 and 2007 respectively.
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