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.