For the Vitality of the Game, It’s OK to Say NO to the Triple Crown Races

Whether you’re an owner, breeder or trainer, the notion of having a horse that you’re connected to compete in and possibly win a leg of the Triple Crown is a beautiful thought. Having your horse get draped in the garland of roses at Churchill Downs, being presented with the Woodlawn Vase at Pimlico, or celebrating victory in the historic Belmont Park winner’s circle are all dreams of anyone attached to horse racing. The problem with these dreams are some people get so caught up with the thought of these being possibilities that they’ll do whatever it takes to get there – even if it means a horse could potentially never develop into what he or she could have possibly become.

In a sport starved for stars, the Triple Crown is the ultimate launching point – rarely does Sportscenter lead off their telecast with a horse racing story; the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes happen to be a few of them. As time progresses, however, and horses continue to become seemingly less durable and increasingly more valuable, the Triple Crown is quickly becoming something analogous to another favorite pastime of sports fans that kicks off tomorrow – the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament (I don’t count the play-in games). Let me explain…

In today’s age of college basketball, it’s difficult to become attached to any real stars that partake in the NCAA Tournament, mainly due to “one-and-done” rule enforced by the NBA for drafting purposes. Basically, a basketball player needs to be out of high school for one year before he’s eligible to enter the NBA Draft. Thus, many of the elite high school basketball players in the country elect to go to top-level college basketball programs, stay for one year, and proceed to declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft (hence the title, “one-and-done”). In turn, you have some bright stars that shine during the NCAA Tournament and become household names, only to leave the college level once the buzzer sounds on their final game for bigger and better things in the NBA (MONEY). This ultimately water’s down the overall level of talent in college basketball, which ends up hurting the actual quality of the product on the floor. Let’s come full circle back to horse racing…

The Kentucky Derby is the ultimate launching point for anyone connected to a winning horse. The owner, trainer, rider, and most importantly, the horse, will be launched into superstardom upon crossing the finish line at Churchill Downs first. The connections, and horse racing as a whole, have the national spotlight for a fleeting moment. It stays this way throughout the Triple Crown season, but once the Belmont Stakes is wrapped up, so too is the major national exposure racing will receive until November when the Breeders’ Cup rolls around…and there’s a reason for this. Just as quickly as the new stars of our sport are thrust into the mainstream, they’re whisked away to stud due to the immense amount of money that is involved in breeding. Some runners will come up with legitimate career ending injuries that force them into retirement; others will have an injury that would normally take a few months of rest and rehab to return from, only to be shelved for the rest of their careers because of the money that is at stake. When this happens, you end up diluting the racing on the track – lesser horses are competing in races that they have no business running in, simply because some divisions become so weak.

It’s easy for me to sit here and say people shouldn’t shoot for the stars and try to win one of the jewels of the Triple Crown – I’ve never been in that position. As a fan of the sport of horse racing, I do, however, believe I have every right to at least bring up the idea that the Triple Crown may not be what’s best for horse racing in the long run. The minute a horse adds a Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, or Belmont Stakes triumph to his or her resume, their breeding fees skyrocket. That’s all well and good – but what good does that do for the sport as a whole if said horse doesn’t race again after June of their three-year old campaign? Some will argue the greatest thing that could happen to the sport is a horse winning the Triple Crown. I have to disagree. It would be incredible, but realistically – what do you think would happen to a horse if they were to win the Triple Crown? You’d never see them set foot on the racetrack ever again following Belmont…and that’s not a good thing for horse racing. Racing needs more horses like Zenyatta, Havre de Grace, Royal Delta, Game On Dude, Wise Dan, Point of Entry and Fort Larned. What do all of these great horses have in common? All of them raced in their five-year old seasons (Fort Larned raced a race…albeit without a rider, but he ran a race this season). Do you know what else they have in common? None of them ran in a Triple Crown event, with the exception of Game On Dude – and he’s a gelding. The horses we hold in high praise and consider the stars of horse racing did not win any of the Triple Crown races. Going back through recent history, how many horses that won a leg of the Triple Crown went on to bigger and better things on the racetrack? Other than a select few like Lookin At Lucky, Rachel Alexandra, Big Brown, Curlin, Street Sense and Drosselmeyer, the list of accomplishments is rather short. Again, I don’t want to downplay the significance of the Triple Crown, but for the vitality of the game, it’s OK to say NO to the Triple Crown.

 

 

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