A confession

I don’t really care about the Triple Crown.

Except for every once in a while, when some horse I really like makes it through his two-year-old season and manages to stay sound and competitive until early May, I don’t really care who wins the Kentucky Derby. I care less about who wins the Preakness, though I recognize that in some ways, it’s the most important race of the three. And I like the Belmont the best when there’s not a Triple Crown on the line, because the track is a far more pleasant place to be on those days.

I know. This is blasphemy. I should be kicked out of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance for such sacrilege.

I didn’t even realize that I didn’t care very much until this year, when I was more interested in writing about inner track racing at Aqueduct than I was in following the Triple Crown trail.

I grew up in Saratoga; for me, that is the center of the racing world, and when you think about it, there’s often very little overlap between the Triple Crown races and Saratoga racing. Of the nineteen horses who have won Triple Crown races since 2000, only seven went on to run at Saratoga in their three-year-old year. 2007 was the first time that the Derby winner had run at Saratoga since Thunder Gulch in 1995, and 2004 was the last time the Belmont winner (Birdstone) made an appearance at the Spa. In general, the horses that make a splash at Saratoga are not the ones who have found prominence earlier in the year.

The three-year-old (mostly) colts who are the stars of the show in the winter and spring are, to me, the least interesting in the racing world. I love two-year-old races (I know, I know—I’m not supposed to, they’re too young to be racing, but I love them), and I like nothing more than to bet a baby race full of first-time starters. When they’re two, we can harbor hopes of their greatness; we can try to spot the ones who will go on to prominence; we can watch them develop from green and immature to grown-up racehorses; and most of the time, we know that we’ll get to watch them for at least another year.

I love distaff races. When I got interested in racing again after a long hiatus, the horses who caught my interest were the fillies and mares: Society Selection, Stellar Jayne, Film Maker, Wonder Again. And I got to follow them for a couple of years; unlike their brethren, they stick around.

I love turf racing. There is little more beautiful than Thoroughbreds on the grass, and both the visual and the racing aesthetics are sublime; on the grass, races usually aren’t over until the very end, and speed is not the primary factor that determines victory. And in general, even turf colts aren’t retired when they’re three.

Two-year-olds, fillies and mares, and grass races don’t usually figure into the Road to the Roses. This hyper-focus on three-year-old colts seems short-sighted to me, as they are the horses most likely to disappear: the grind will wear them down or out, or if they stay healthy and are successful, they’ll get retired before too long. The drama of the Triple Crown highlights the ephemeral nature of racing while ignoring the horses for which fans can develop a lasting interest. The beast of breeding dominates in ways that it doesn’t in other racing categories.

So I’m glad it’s over. Sure, I will be interested in what these colts do for the rest of the year, and as someone who loves racing history, I can appreciate the tradition, the difficulty, and the storied past of the races themselves. The magnitude of the Triple Crown awes me, and I show up at these impossibly crowded days at Belmont for the same reason that I go to Mark Messier’s retirement ceremony and playoff games: we too seldom have a chance to see history, and we take those opportunities when we can.

But that part of the racing calendar is now behind us, and I am now counting the days until the opening of Saratoga (42), when for me, the racing season begins in earnest.

9 thoughts on “A confession

  1. Perhaps I’ll run into you at Saratoga – planning on heading up around August 16th if all goes well. It’s quite a hike for me, but I’ve never been and this feels like the right year to do so. I’m with you – glad the Triple Crown is over. I tend to be a bit more into it, but now I”ve kind of got blog exhaustion. 🙂

  2. I love the Triple Crown chase-especially when you consider how truly hard it is to attain with only 11 winners. But I do, love the year round racing, and of course, for me the best racetrack and best time of year is the 36 racing days at Saratoga–the beautiful turf races, the promising 2 year old maiden races (I saw War Pass, Big Brown, Maimonides and others all break maiden at the Spa in 07) the great attendance everyday, the excitement of the Whitney, the Jim Dandy, the Alabama, The Midsummer Derby (Travers) cannot be beaten.

  3. I cut my teeth at the Spa. Can’t wait for 7/23. Opening day and Alabama weekend are my traditional visits. Excited that they added the Sword Dancer to Alabama Day. Glad we got to meet. Cheers.

  4. Here’s what happened: In the past, the fall championship meet at Belmont was just that, and other big races throughout the year received their just due. Then the Breeders’ Cup came along and diminished their value, even killing off some like the historic D.C. International, which just had no place in this world with the arrival of the Breeders’ Cup Turf. So, all the great races became less so because the Breeders’ Cup, we were told, was what counted. The issue was then compounded by unforunate developments in the media: The new school of editor was an Ivy League type, a silver spoon type, not a beer-in-the-drawer type. The new breed, now in prominence, believes the world begins and ends with the NFL, college football and basketball, and then baseball. These people were not brought up under fathers who watched boxing and horse racing. They were brought up under football men and golf men. So, when newspapers began to feel the pressure to turn greater profits from Wall Street, they made cuts, and those department cuts came down on the sports the editors had no affinity for. When the racing writers grew old, they were not replaced. When the editors saw the chance, they eliminated charts and entries. All the while, to show they cared — which they do not — they focused more and more on the Triple Crown. They put the series — once just a lovely part of the fabric of a longer year of horse racing — on steroids. They artificially enhanced its importance. Breeders recognized this and exploited it, compounding the perception of value for their own ends. You could argue that racing should feel lucky it even gets this attention; after all, the heavyweight championship of the world these days has been reduced to AP wire copy in most papers. In the days of Joe Louis, people used to run into the street and bang pots and pans after he won. Ali’s fights, don’t forget, were shown on network television in prime time. The Belmont did whopping numbers, by the way, a 10.7 share, so people still love racing, but the sport’s agenda has been set by outsiders who would play the NFL draft — a draft! — above a racing story 10 times out of 10. I love the Triple Crown and find its plot arc fascinating every single year. I have heard snatches of conversation wherever I have gone this past week about Big Brown. People, I say to myself, are talking about horse racing. So maybe your reaction to and feelings about the Triple Crown are largely in recognition that things are out of balance and other things of value are being overlooked and ignored, and you would be absolutely right. But if sports editors would let the people who know about racing tell their stories year-round instead of just for eight weeks, the public would come back, drawn with fascination toward perhaps the greatest game every devised. – J.S.

  5. Teresa … I could have written this post. No wait, probably not because I’m not as articulate as you. But the hoopla surrounding the TC is rather overbearing. I’m fairly certain that there are a couple of other horses racing out there other than Big Brown. (BTW, never heard a thing about Da’ Tara until entered into the Belmont).

  6. I love it all, but none as much as the big Fall races in NY. All time favorite race: Marlboro Cup.Woodward, Gold Cup (which should be re-named the Seattle Slew)—that’s what I’m talking about.

  7. Rename the Jockey Club Gold Cup?!?!?!?! Ernie, you were out in the sun too long Saturday! Good seeing you — John S.

  8. Sue: “(BTW, never heard a thing about Da’ Tara until entered into the Belmont).”And if you watched the coverage on ABC, you didn’t hear a thing about him after his victory!Ernie: I’m with you on the fall races–is there a better place than Belmont in September? What’s going to happen this year, with the BC on a synthetic track? Will NY horses head to the artificial stuff to prep, destroying our autumn?

  9. Obviously Saratoga has turned into the centre of my racing world but I am constantly reminded by friends who bemoan the extension of the season from 4 to 5 to 6 weeks-because it has seriously diluted the racing product.Take this year as an example. 14 Grade 1s spread over the 36 day meet but it’s bit by bit become more and more front and end loaded. 10 of the 14 Grade Is are either on the opening weekend or the last 2 weekends. Between July 26th and August 16th-that’s 17 racing days with only 1 Grade 1 and one entire weekend without a SINGLE Graded race. If they ever extended to 8/9 weeks it would dilute the product to the point that one of the horses I have a share in could win a race there-and that’s both good and bad!As for the Fall races. One reasons I want a National Racing Authority is that such a body would be able to scrutinize draft Stakes Schedules and whilst perhaps not having the power to veto it could have the ability to comment and influence change.

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