Some random observations on this year’s run for the Triple Crown:
- It takes a great horse to win the Triple Crown: I picked California Chrome to win each of the three legs and said he is the best and most-accomplished three-year old, an opinion I still have. But that does not mean he is a great horse. There is a reason the TC is so difficult to win – you have to be great to do it. I do not think anyone would dispute applying that label to the last three winners – Affirmed, Seattle Slew and Secretariat.
- Let’s drop the foolishness about changing the scheduling of the races: There has been some discussion about changing the spacing of the races so that there are not three tough events over a five-week period. That’s actually why winning the Crown is the sport’s ultimate achievement. So what if it hasn’t been won since 1978? No one has hit .400 in baseball or hit in 56 straight games since 1941. That’s why Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio are rightly viewed as icons of the game – of course, they had a bunch of other accomplishments as well. Making the Triple Crown easier to win is akin to allowing walks to count as hits so we can have another .400 season or hitting streak. The sport is not diminished because signal accomplishments are difficult – that’s why they are signal accomplishments. Is there anyone who really regrets that neither Funny Cide nor War Emblem failed in their bids to join the ranks of Citation and Secretariat?
- It’s time for Steve Coburn to move on: I was willing to give to give California Chrome’s part-owner Steve Coburn a pass for his remarks following the Belmont. Fortunately for the rest of us, our intemperate and stupid comments are not broadcast live on national TV. But then he came back a day later and made even more intemperate and stupid statements to back-up his initial ones. As for the substance – only horses that compete in the Derby and Preakness could contest the Belmont – we would have had a three-horse field in which one of the three was eased because he bled.
- That was a great card of racing: The decision by the New York Racing Association to card ten stakes, including nine graded and six Grade I’s, produced some tremendous races and handicapping opportunities – not that I realized any personal benefit from the latter. There was only one six-horse field, but the Ogden Phipps had one of the most exciting finishes, including a long shot running third. Only one favorite won a stake – last year’s Belmont winner – and four of the stakes had winners paying at least $20. The outstanding card came at the expense of stripping the traditional Memorial Day card of its three Grade I’s, and I do not think many people came to Belmont on Saturday for those six Grade I’s who would not have come if “just” a Triple Crown was on the line. I guess we won’t know that answer until we see a Belmont without the Crown a factor.
- It’s time for Chris Kay to move on: NYRA’s CEO can’t stop promoting the “sparkling” musical entertainment during Saturday’s program, even after the day is over. When he proclaimed the Belmont would be the “greatest ever” before the race was even run, I thought he was continuing the relentless self-promotion that has been evident ever since he took over as CEO. No one came to Belmont on Saturday to hear Frank Sinatra, Jr. sing one of his father’s songs, although I admit he was better than I anticipated. Instead of being preoccupied with the music program, Kay may want to pay more attention to the “guest experience.” I have heard from one reader that it was pretty bad, although that is obviously not a scientific sample. There was also a touch of Steve Coburn in Kay’s complaining that the all-time attendance record of 120,000 for the Smarty Jones bid was inflated (not the first time that thought has been uttered). As much as Kay wanted a new record, even if the 2004 number was below 100,000, this year’s Belmont attendance of 102,199 is still only the second-highest – which is nothing to be ashamed of.
- “Enhanced security protocols” were not exactly airtight: NYRA and the Gaming Commission established enhanced security protocols covering all the horses entered in the four $1 million stakes to be run on Saturday. The essence of the procedures is that all entrants were to be on the grounds by noon on the preceding Wednesday, and monitored from then until the race, including the administration of any veterinary treatments. Two Belmont entrants, however, were exempted from the Wednesday deadline. Apparently on their belated flight to New York, the connections of Medal Count and General a Rod developed some testiness. When General a Rod failed to make it to the pre-race assembly barn on time, Medal Count’s trainer Dale Romans objected rather forcefully. He then engaged in a heated discussion with Mike Maker, the trainer of the tardy colt, according to David Grening in drf.com. DRF reported that Romans said General a Rod did not arrive at the assembly barn until 5 minutes before the field was to move to the paddock.
Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president for racing, was quoted in bloodhorse.com: “As far as I know, there is no rule that the horse must be at the barn at a certain time as long as they undergo all of the testing.” That would be, of course, except for the rule published by NYRA and the Gaming Commission on May 21 stating that horses “will be required to be in the Assembly barn between 45 minutes to 1 hour before post time for TCO2 testing.” TCO2 testing is for the purpose of identifying “milk shaking,” an illegal pre-race procedure on a horse. Despite Panza’s uninformed clearing of Maker from any wrongdoing, the stewards are conducting an inquiry.
Now we can return to the obscure niche racing occupies on the American sporting calendar for 47 weeks of the year.