Is It Time to Change the Triple Crown Format?

By Gene Kershner & Patrick Patten

Back in June, Gene mentioned briefly on his EquiSpace blog that it might be time to change the format of the Triple Crown races.  Heresy, you say?  Well, number one, he wouldn't change the venues (although Pimlico is not located in the best neighborhood in the world) and number two, he wouldn't change the distances, as both have extreme historical significance.  What we do propose is a change in the dates that the races are scheduled.  Actually, the idea is only to change the dates of two of the races, which only would affect one weekend.  Why not change them to the First Saturdays of May, June and July 4th weekend.

Why would this work?

  • It would provide more time for the horses to recover from minor scratches or injuries suffered in the previous race.  It might actually make it harder for a horse to win the Triple Crown as the Preakness might not be so "skippable."

  • It would increase the time for drama to build between the races and heighten awareness to horse racing over a three month period, not a seven week period as it is now.  One of the best shows this past year on cable was Mayweather/De La Hoya 24/7.  Imagine a camera crew following around the jockeys, trainers and connections for a reality TV show after the Derby, and possibly with the Triple Crown on the line.

  • It sets up the premier summer races (Haskell - First Saturday in August, finishing off with the Travers in late August) with nice spacing where a horse could skip one and have two months off to the next marquee 3yo race.  Maybe NYRA would then move the Travers back to the First Saturday in September to spark attendance in the Spa's final weekend?

With any idea, there are counter-arguments and reasons not to change:

  •  Frank from That's Amore Stable blog points out that "the longer time between races, the higher likelihood that another track will schedule a richer race in between and steal the Kentucky Derby winner, thus rendering the series useless. That's why Spend A Buck's (1985) name doesn't appear in the Preakness or Belmont annals -- he skipped both to win the Jersey Derby with a big purse and a $2 million bonus."  An excellent point, and another change to be considered is to increase the purses of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (both currently $1M purses) to eliminate this potential situation to arise.
  • The tradition and history to win three Grade 1 races in a six week span could diminish, in some folk's eyes, the accomplishment over the shortened time span of the current Triple Crown scheduled.  But it's not like we're introducing the designated hitter here.  The Triple Crown has gone through many incarnations.

So, which side are you on?  Let's not burn the authors at the stake here, this is pretty middle of the road.


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