The Tricky Tiara?

The poor Triple Tiara.  It’s been poked and prodded and tweaked and changed multiple times in the last half century; it might be the Rodney Dangerfield of Thoroughbred racing. Even the trainer whose filly might become the first Triple Tiara winner in 18 years isn’t that excited about it. In fact, Kiaran McLaughlin indicated that he didn’t even realize that It’s Tricky had a shot at winning the Triple Tiara until someone told him about it.

I wrote about the series and its changes in detail for Hello Race Fans!; here, a brief history:

1961:  The New York Racing Association names the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks the Filly Triple Crown.

1988:  The name of the series is changed from Filly Triple Crown to Filly Triple Tiara (please do read Steven Crist’s 1989 article on this).

2003: The Acorn gets the boot and is replaced by the Alabama.

2006:  The Acorn resumes its rightful place; the Alabama is out.

2010:  The Mother Goose is jettisoned from the series; the Alabama’s back in; TVG sponsors the series and offers a $50,000 bonus to the filly who wins all three races, along with financial considerations for the points accrued in the three races if no filly gets the sweep.

2011: TVG’s sponsorship continues, but the bonus is dropped.

Still with me?

In 1989, when D. Wayne Lukas’s Open Mind won the Triple Tiara, things were a little simpler.  McLaughlin was Lukas’s assistant then, working with the trainer’s Monmouth string, of which Open Mind was a part. (In June, he talked to me about training her as a two-year-old.)

“Back in 1989, when Open Mind won [the Triple Tiara], it was a big deal,” said McLaughlin Wednesday morning on the Saratoga backstretch.

In It’s Tricky, McLaughlin’s got a Godolphin filly who has won five of six races this year, most of them pretty easily. Having won the Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks, she’ll be the first filly to sweep the series (in any of its configurations) since Sky Beauty did it in 1993 if she wins the Alabama.

In addition to sharing the Triple Tiara, Sky Beauty and Open Mind were both also inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

But winning the Triple Tiara is not exactly a goal for Godolphin or for McLaughlin.

“With this filly, we take it one race at a time,” he said. “We’re just taking it as a program, coming back from Breeders’ Cup to the Cotillion October 1, to this race, to the Coaching Club.”

Unaware that last year $50,000 had been offered to the winner of the three races, McLaughlin stops and looks. “Can we do that this year?”

An hour later, on a perfect Saratoga morning, It’s Tricky is out on the synthetic track on the old Greentree farm, just south of the main track, now owned by Darley USA and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

She’s just galloping, alone on the track except for a pony, and the majestic grounds of the historic farm once owned by Payne Whitney are an aptly regal setting for a filly trying to become racing royalty.

It’s Tricky, however, is not impressed. McLaughlin has not been shy about affectionately mocking his star filly’s obstreperous personality, and on this morning, he and Neal McLaughlin, his brother and assistant, ask a visitor to step back and away from the rail as the daughter of Mineshaft heads down the stretch. She is, they suggest, rather easily distracted.

She’s headstrong and she wants to go. She made her first three starts at Aqueduct, winning all three by a combined 14 ½ lengths, but with two Grade 1’s to her credit, she might be forgiven for wanting to have things her own way.

If It’s Tricky wins on Saturday afternoon at Saratoga, she’ll become only the ninth horse to win the New York series for 3-year-old fillies, regardless of its configuration. The other eight are all in the Hall of Fame.

It’s not often that I come across a real paradox, but the Triple Tiara is significant despite its irrelevance.  Winning it might be kind of like the tree in the forest – if no one’s paying attention, does it really matter? – but a win in the Alabama would make It’s Tricky the first horse this year to win three Grade 1 races, and even if you think the Triple Tiara is of dubious import, history shows that winning it is no small accomplishment.

Even without the $50,000.

4 thoughts on “The Tricky Tiara?

  1. Any horse that wins three Grade 1s this year is deserving of being called racing royalty! And the fillies are way more exciting than the colts this year to boot!

    Good Luck to the mischievous It’s Tricky on Saturday, I’ll be cheering for her all the way!

  2. Kieran is quite right. Not that many years ago, relatively speaking (when one measures the sport’s history and one’s half-century of observations), the filly triple crown was a big deal. While it feels, to one who remembers the first modern winner, Dark Mirage, in 1969 (along with all of her successors), more like the “moving target tiara,” it does still matter today, and it will matter more if enough promotional and media fuss is made about it (with or without the bonus money), and sufficient attention is paid to the filly that wins all three. Fortunately, that is possible this year with It’s Tricky (who appears not only capable, but also seems aptly named), so all its sparkle isn’t totally lost. Let’s hope she does it so we’ll have something exciting to talk about for a while and give the series some special significance again.

    Minor correction, but the Darley facility (formerly Greentree) is located just south of the main track at Saratoga (not north). (I know you know that.) For your readers’ (and Saratoga visitors’) information, portions of the farm are readily visible from Nelson Avenue, just past the main track’s backstretch gate and Clare Court. Very impressive place and, fortunately, beautifully maintained once again.

  3. I wrote a view on what needs to be done to create a new Filly Triple Crown/Triple Tiara at the end of June on the Too Smart To Fail Message Board at:

    Below is what I wrote on this at the time:

    While for many years it was not the true equal of the Kentucky Derby like it is now, The Kentucky Oaks has certainly become the premier race in the sport for three year old fillies. With the purse finally reflecting that at $1 Million and a possible move of the Oaks to prime time (and if so, possibly airing on NBC for the first time ever) in 2012, this may be the time to put such a series together with the Oaks at the main linchpin. One thing I would do in association with such a move, however, is to lengthen the Oaks to 1 1/4 Miles from its traditional distance of 1 1/8 Miles, making the fillies run the same distance their male counterparts do.

    The middle leg to me has two options, in either case scheduling such race in most years for the Memorial Day Monday holiday, making for in most years a three and a half week (24-day) gap between the first two legs (except in years where Memorial Day falls on May 31, in those years, the middle leg would be nine days earlier on Saturday, May 22, 22 days after the Oaks). This leg would also be in the mid-Atlantic Region, but not at Pimlico.

    My choices for the second leg would be either the Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park or the Cotillion at Parx Racing (formerly Philadelphia Park). While both are currently Grade 2 stakes, if either or both races continue to get the fields they currently do, they could be looking at Grade 1 status for 2012 anyway (especially the Cotillion, which last year attracted Blind Luck and Harve de Grace, arguably the two top fillies in the division), in the case of Parx, if so it would be the first Grade 1 stakes event in the history of the track. Either race would also have to be lengthened in my version from 1 1/16 Miles to 1 3/16 Miles, the same distance the boys go in the Preakness. The purse for this race would be $1 Million, which Parx could do be simply cutting the Pennsylvania Derby to $750,000 or Delaware could do by cutting the Delaware Handicap to $250,000 (from $750,000) and perhaps finding the other $250,000 by shaving other stakes events a bit.

    The final leg would be the Coaching Club American Oaks, which would be scheduled for two weeks after The Belmont Stakes and returned to its former distance of 1 1/2 Miles and would also be increased to $1 Million, in this case using funds that will be coming in from the VLT revenue that should start flowing later this year to pay for the increase. Returning the CCA Oaks to 1 1/2 Miles mean the fillies would have to face the same “test of the champion” distance two weeks after their male counterparts do.

    There would be other residual changes from this as well. The most notable as I would do them would be for the Acorn and Mother Goose to both be moved to Aqueduct and run early in the year: The Acorn lengthened to 1 1/16 Miles and becoming the first Grade 1 race of the year in New York and first Grade 1 ever on the inner track in March, eight weeks before the Oaks and the Mother Goose run at 1 1/8 Miles on the main track as part of the Wood Memorial program. These two races can serve as the main New York preps for the new series.

    The Comely (Grade 3), which has been run at Aqueduct could be moved to the Belmont Stakes program and beefed up in purse value to replace the Acorn on that program while the Gazelle (Grade 1) could be taken out of its exile late in the fall meet at Aqueduct and shifted to replace the CCA Oaks as the opening Saturday feature at Saratoga and primary prep for the Alabama. If NYRA wants to have a big late-season race for three year old fillies, it could revive the Rare Perfume, which used to be a significant late-season race for three year old fillies (that was a Grade 2 as I remember when it was disbanded in the early 1990s) and have that replace the Gazelle on Thanksgiving weekend at Aqueduct.

    These changes to me would allow for a solid companion to the Triple Crown that can keep interest in the sport high during and after the Triple Crown series, especially with the CCA Oaks run two weeks after the Belmont Stakes.

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