Orb won the Kentucky Derby.
Oxbow won the Preakness Stakes
Fill in the blank will win the Belmont Stakes.
So it goes in thoroughbred racing in the ongoing quest to crown another Triple Crown winner.
Under the current system–three races in five weeks, beginning with the Derby on the first Saturday in May– Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak has a better chance of being broken than finding another horse that can and will win those three races which define thoroughbred racing.
DiMaggio’s streak was in 1941. The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978. There have been only 11 TC winners. Under the current system–where the elite horses are simply not bred for a career that may not be reach a dozen races before they are retired to stud–there may not be another.
Since the leadership in horse racing is so fragmented, it is unlikely that a major change in the system will occur. If any sport needs a one-person, strong-voiced, iron-willed commissioner who rules as much as leads, it is horse racing. But the sport may not be in existence in 20 years, at least at more than a few “super tracks”.
In New England, the sport has withered over the past 30 years, with only Suffolk Downs–on a life support system that a casino complex can provide–offering live racing.
But here’s a solution which would offer minimal change and might provide at least an opportunity for the best three-year olds to not only compete, but win all three TC races.
Extend the gap from 5 weeks to 8 or nine weeks.
Here’s how it would work.
Start with the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, which would still provide the proper build up and excitement coming out of the Derby prep races in the winter and early spring. But instead of a two-week break between the Derby and Preakness, double it. Make it a month between races. The Preakness would always be held on the first Saturday in June.
Then wait another month–instead of three weeks–for the Belmont Stakes, the longest and most grueling test at a mile and a half. Hold the Belmont on the first Saturday in July. Every year. Build it up as part of the July 4th weekend festivities.
Racing should then continue this celebration of its sport for the rest of the summer. August would be Monmouth Park and The Haskell Invitational on the first Saturday. Saratoga would be the Travers Stakes on the last Saturday. Or races such as the Arlington Million at Arlington Park. Or the best of what Delmar has to offer in California.
The point to all of this is to spread the wealth of a shrinking pot, market it, but allow the system to work, which means big races, but with greater lag time in between for rest and recovery for those who want to participate.
Imagine the ad campaign that NBC could use from May through July 4th with horses such as Big Brown or Smarty Jones or Funny Side, the other recent horses who have won the first two legs of the TC, but came up empty at the Belmont.
Horse racing will never be what it was in the era of Citation and Man of War and of Secretariat and Affirmed. Those days are long gone.
But horse racing can still have its magical moments. It can have the feeling of excitement on Derby Day when the horses come out on the track to the melody of My Old Kentucky Home.
Or the sense of anticipation on Belmont Saturday when a live Triple Crown hopeful comes out to hearing Sinatra singing “Start spreading the News” in New York, New York.
There won’t be any of that this year–again. And that is too bad. But it could happen, with just a little forward thinking to start spreading the time frame between races.
Word out of the meetings of the new Big East Conference in West Palm Beach–5 star Ritz Carlton Hotel–is that selecting a commissioner IS NOT a high priority this week. The ADS and coaches who are meeting are working on schedules and formats, but apparently the commissioner’s job has been downgraded to more of an administrator rather than a leader. The time frame for selecting this person still remains in the next few weeks, but it is likely to be a mid-level executive coming out of Fox television or the NBA, who can simply market the inventory in the new league that needs to be marketed and very little else. The Presidents of the New Big East do not want a leader in the sense of Mike Tranghese, Mike Slive or Jim Delany. They want an office administrator who will follow the directives of the Presidents, which is to make money.