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.