Horse racing’s Triple Crown is very hard to win.  In 1948, Citation won it, but it did not happen again until 1973, whern the legendary Secretariat turned the trick.  The 1970s, saw a mini run on the Triple Crown as Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978 also won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.

After Eight Belles was tragically put down after breaking both her front ankles, there are now calls for major changes to the sport of horse racing.  For the most part, none of them make much sense, but there has been talk of extending the length between the Triple Crown races.  Currently, there is a two week gap between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, then a three week gap between the Preakness and 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes.  Some have suggested that given today’s horse, which is used to taking big gaps of time off between races, would not it make sense to run the Derby, then, three weeks later, the Preakness, then after a month, run the Belmont?  Running three races in eight weeks has to be easier than three in five weeks, doesn’t it? 

Of course, the purists—if there are any left—will oppose this because it would throw off over 125 years of tradition, but there was a time when the gap between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness was only one week.  It would draw out the Triple Crown season perhaps too long, especially if the Kentucky Derby champ does not win the Preakness or gets injured and does not even run the Preakness.  Ratings for the Belmont where there is no chance for a Triple Crown winner would be very low, and that is a genuine fear of the horse racing establishment. 

Horse racing is the one sport where despite all the advances in training, the horses have not gotten faster.  In 1975, John Walker of New Zealand set the world record for the one mile run at 3:49.4.  Today, the world record stands at 3:43.13.  Secretariat set the course record for the Kentucky Derby in 1973 at 1:59 2/5.  Monarchos has the second fastest time from 2001 and for third, we have to go back to 1964 when Northern Dancer broke 2 minutes for the 1 1/4 mile race.  Swimming times have come down drastically as well.  Mark Spitz won four individual gold medals at the 1972 Summer Olympics.  His times today wouldn’t even win a high school state meet. 

Why aren’t horses running faster?  One reason might be the changes in training.  In the past, horses ran at least two times per month, now they go months without racing.  In 1982, thinking his horse needed a race, trainer Woody Stephens entered Conquistador Cielo in the Memorial Day Met Mile at Belmont Park. After winning the Met Mile,  six days later, Conquistador Cielo won the Belmont Stakes.  Think that will ever happen again?

It does make sense to tailor the racing schedule to the training schedule.  If horses are going to run every eight weeks, does it make sense to ask Big Brown to race three times in five weeks in an effort to win the Triple Crown?  Increasing the gap between races may placate everybody who cares about the safety of the animal without ruining the integrity of the sport. 

There have been seven Triple Crown races since 2006 and in two of them, Barbaro and Eight Belles suffered catastrophic injuries in front of large audiences both in person and on television.  The horse racing industry does not want that rate to continue.

Perhaps making this concession can quell everybody’s feelings. 

John Furgele



2 Responses to “Concessions?”

  1. J. Rusak Says:

    The change won’t quell anyone’s feelings, but it does make sense, given the current physical of the horses runnign today.

    I think it really sez something about the state of affairs when Big Brown is apt to be the only horse going to the Preakness, from the Derby, and that only because he has to be.

    J Rusak

  2. johnny228 Says:

    You hit it right on the head. There is an obligation for the Kentucky Derby champ to run in the Preakness. If Big Brown wins the Preakness, he will go to the Belmont and regardless of whether he wins or loses, he will likely never run another race again. Simply put, he’ll be too spent to rise to the occasion once again and will be led right to the breeding shed.

    Denis of Cork is sitting pretty. He finished third of 20 at the Derby and now, he can sit and rest to see how things shake out. If Big Brown wins the Preakness, Cork could come to the Belmont and try to be the spoiler. If not, he can take the rest of the spring off, run a race in late summer and then head to the Breeder’s Cup in October, and possibly run as a 4 year old before embarking on a stud career. He”s the kind of horse that isn’t great enough to go right to stud, might not be great enough to win a classic race, but might be good enough to contend in the classics and win a less prestigious Grade 1, 2, or 3 stakes race and have a decent career. Of course, only the horse racing fan will remember a horse like Denis of Cork, the general sports fan will say “who?”

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