Power Cap

Power cap- existential handicapping

21 April 2011

The Elusive Triple Crown

Since Affirmed crossed the finish line ahead of Alydar back in 1978 there hasn’t been a sweep of the Triple Crown. That may have been the pinnacle of this treasured series. The year after there was Spectacular Bid who was presumed to have no peers able to defeat him. A safety pin, a bad ride, or a combination of both did in the infallible Spectacular Bid. There have been great thoroughbreds that have fallen short of the grand prize since then; Alysheba, Sunday Silence, and Silver Charm come to mind.

Another Triple Crown may just not be in cards. There has been numerous horses who have won two out of three in the series only to fall short in one of the legs based either on a bad trip in the Derby or losing a close finish in the Preakness. The Kentucky this year will be a 20-horse mess as it has been for the last decade or so. The Preakness usually exposes a weak Derby winner or vindication for a Derby favorite that endured a poor trip and the Belmont is a dirt marathon that trainers have forgotten how to train for.

From 1997 to 1999 there were three chances at racing’s crown jewel; Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Charismatic fell a combined 2 ¼ lengths short in the Belmont. Not counting the 2004 bid of Smarty Jones or the 2008 attempt by Big Brown, this time period of the drought was probably the best chance at seeing the sweep.

In 1997 Silver Charm was in a thirteen horse Derby field, which by 2011 standards seems like a small field for this race. Silver Charm had all but one of his main rivals in his crosshairs for the first mile of this race and passed them by the eighth pole and held off a hard charging Captain Bodgit. The Preakness that year was one for the ages, a three-horse charge to the line with Silver Charm digging in and defeating his southern California rival Free House and gamely denying Captain Bodgit. Touch Gold had a rough start and an overall bad trip, but finished a solid fourth not far behind the top three. The last leg was the one that did Silver Charm in. After battling Free House throughout the whole series he put away the rival gray and could not hold off the late charge of Touch Gold, who had an incident free trip around the Belmont oval.

Real Quiet was the lesser known half of the Baffert duo that made their way to Louisville in 1998, Indian Charlie was the favorite off his prosperous winter in California. Real Quiet put away his better known counterpart by mid stretch and held off Victory Gallop. The Preakness changed shape with the scratch of Coronado’s Quest, a talented but temperamental colt that skipped the Derby to avoid the circus atmosphere of the big race. Coronado’s Quest was the morning line favorite for the Preakness. Real Quiet won the race by two lengths over Victory Gallop, they both moved at the same time leaving the backstretch and going into the final turn. The 1998 Belmont is one of the better known renewals of this race. Desormeaux moved Real Quiet early and at one point Desormeaux had the colt in front by six lengths. Victory Gallop, piloted by Gary Stevens waited a little bit longer to make a bid for the win and it paid off with one of the closest finishes seen to decide the Triple Crown since the 1978 series.

Charismatic was a rags to riches story, available for a claim twice and won the first of many crowded Derby fields that had 19 horses with a clean trip while his counterparts had rough trips and lots of excuses going to Baltimore. Charismatic’s 31-1 upset did little to scare off the competition with a full field signed on to challenge with one notable scratch. Silverbulletday was entered and withdrawn after getting the wide 13 post, she won the Black Eyed Susan a day before the main event. Charismatic won by 1 ½ lengths over Menifee who was second to Charismatic in the Derby as well. With nine starts to that point in the year, a total of 16 races in his short career, and a stamina pedigree it seemed like he stood just as good a chance as the last two to win it all. Silverbulletday was entered in the Belmont Stakes and was the pace setter with Charismatic a close second before assuming the lead on the far turn and failing to hold off the charge of a pair of longshots, Lemon Drop Kid and Vision and Verse.

A triple crown winner has been sought after since the glory days of the 70’s when there were three in one decade, those three are still revered as the some of the greatest to ever set foot on a racetrack. The desire to see a horse pull the hat trick has caused the public and media to latch onto horses that for some reason or another just couldn’t pull the feat off. Big Brown had a bad hoof going into the Triple Crown and it was exposed at the wrong time, Smarty Jones was a victim of his success with jockeys putting a big bull’s eye on Stewart Elliot’s back, and Funny Cide had to deal with a rejuvenated Empire Maker.

The chances of seeing a Triple Crown winner ranks up there with losing with a straight flush in poker. Trainers have a different mindset from their counterparts from thirty to forty years ago and horses have less stamina in their pedigree than three decades ago thanks to farms breeding for speed and juvenile brilliance. If a horse does sweep these races in the near future it may be a bigger accomplishment than it was 33 years ago because of the last two statements, although the chances of it actually happening are slim.


Bill said...

No horse was even able to ENTER all 3 classics last year, much less win.

C said...

Slim? None is a much safer bet.