By Laura Pugh, of Horsin' Around
I believe in tradition, despite my young age. I've always believed that dirt and turf should be the only two surfaces in racing. I believe that a great horse should push the envelope and take risks before s/he can be called great. However, not everything can stay the same; all industries, all sports must learn to accept change and to adapt in order to survive.
The Triple Crown -- the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont -- is the focal point of the media for racing, and a Triple Crown winner is just what this sport needs to put itself back into the public spotlight. That cannot happen with the way the Triple Crown is currently arranged and the horses, which have disappointed us for 32 years, have made it abundantly clear the Crown needs to change.
Our horses are not built like they used to be, that much is true. Even throwbacks like Curlin and Hard Spun fell due to distance, inexperience, or the overall rigors of the Triple Crown. Big Brown, a phenom of a horse, could not achieve racing's highest honor. Point Given, a monster of a horse, also fell in the Derby, as did the plucky Afleet Alex. If these horses could not get it done, I ask of you, who do you think will? As of now we would need to resurrect Secretariat in order to get what racing so desperately needs.
The Kentucky Derby is currently a rodeo show. It is often that not the best horse will win, but the horse with the best trip will reap the glory. I would like to ask you, what Triple Crown winner had to overcome a field of 19 other rivals to win the Derby. Not Secretariat, not Affirmed, not Seattle Slew. Sir Barton led a field of 12 horses when he won his Derby en rout to the Triple Crown. A field size reduced to 14 horses would take away the rodeo style and allow the best horse to shine through.
The spacing between the three races also poses a problem. Many horses coming from the Derby do typically do well in the Preakness. In my opinion this is due from the excitement and overall adrenaline high the horses have after the Kentucky Derby. The Belmont is where the horse starts to feel the fatigue set in and will normally start to buckle.
My next suggestion would be to shake up the order of the Triple Crown, starting with the Preakness then adding the Derby and Belmont. Who thinks that Sam Riddle would've been more likely to enter Man O War in the Preakness then come back for the Derby? His main problem with the Derby was the fact that he'd be asking his horse to run 10 furlongs so early in his career. I'm sure many trainers would be thankful to have the chance to test their horses at the 9.5 furlongs first instead of trying to make the jump from 9 to 1o furlongs.
I say why not add a week in between each race, making the Preakness and Derby three weeks apart and the Derby and Belmont 4 weeks apart. This could attract a solid field for all three jewels. Preakness starters would be more inclined to run in the Derby due to more time and less hoopla to deal with in the first jewel and those coming from the Derby would get a months rest before the daunting 12 furlongs of the test of the champions.
I know how many people want to stick with tradition, but even in that area, their argument still has some holes. The Triple Crown has not always been Derby, Preakness Belmont. The Belmont has not always been 12 furlongs nor has it always been run at Belmont Park. Up until the 70's the Triple Crown was a chameleon. Our first Triple Crown winner does not have an asterisk next to his name, just because he ran against 11 rivals and won the Belmont at 11 furlongs, which no doubt made his task easier.
I am generally not a fan of change, I am a fan of tradition, but I know what racing needs right now is to be put back into the spotlight. A Triple Crown is the biggest media series racing has, and not even the Breeders Cup can match it. Other sports have undergone changes. Football and baseball have added games to their seasons, making it easier for records to be broken, making it easier for people to achieve new heights.
Changing and adapting are how every sport, how every business, survives. Horse racing is not different. The general public has no qualms with us changing the Triple Crown. Those who watch the Triple Crown for fun do not know the difference. All they will know is that racing has a Triple Crown winner. All they will know is that there is a horse for them to become excited about. The only thing holding us back, the only thing ever holding us back, has been ourselves. Something needs to give, something needs to change, or this sport we all love so much, will be no more than a distant memory.