06/08/2015 1:04PM

Fornatale: Triple Crown could have ripple effect

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We were there in Section U, row H, seats 10 and 11. The grandstand was shaking like Shea Stadium during the 1986 World Series. My wife, Susan Van Metre, and I were jumping up and down, arm in arm. There was a lot of shouting. I stood on my chair to take the standing ovation to the next level. Finally, we were on the right side of history.

In the first conversation I ever remember having with the woman who was to become my wife, I told her to bet on Silver Charm in the 1997 Kentucky Derby. I had just started following racing around that time and I embraced Bob Baffert’s gray colt with the zeal of someone born again.

I was there when Silver Charm lost in the ’97 Belmont, and it felt to me as if the Mets had lost Game 7. I took it personally, and not seeing a Triple Crown was part of that loss. I stayed up late that night watching the VHS tape over and over again, somehow expecting to see a different result.

George Vescey wrote in the New York Times the next day that when the Triple Crown finally happened, it would be all the sweeter because of Silver Charm’s close call. And of course, we had an even closer call the next year, and then several more attempts over the ensuing 15 plus years. Some of them I rooted for, some of them I rooted against, but I didn’t share a strong emotional connection with any of those horses.

Last year, I was a little slow to warm to American Pharoah – I voted for Texas Red as champion two-year-old for 2014. But once he returned to the races at three, I was on board. The more I talked to people I respect who look at horses for a living I became convinced – this was the horse worth waiting for. And Vescey was right: I wouldn’t have appreciated it nearly as much without the disappointment of Silver Charm.

So what happens for racing now that we’ve finally seen a Triple Crown once again? Frankly, the idea that his win will be a panacea for racing is a non-starter – racing’s issues are too ingrained for any event, no matter how exciting, to be a cure-all. But I do think this could mark a sea change.

Looking back at the poker boom for comparison, many have identified the key moment as Chris Moneymaker’s World Series of Poker triumph. Here was a guy who qualified online for $40 and parlayed that into $2.5 million. I’ve already written about contest players like Bob Traynor and Patrick McGoey, both of whom turned $100 buy-ins at BCQualify.com into more than $250,000 each at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. In the next few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have the opportunity to write about some young man or woman, inspired by Pharoah’s flying finish, who qualifies inexpensively online and wins $1 million at the National Handicapping Championship.

From my perch within the world of handicapping tournaments I’ve seen a lot of growth and opportunity. I have seen a way into racing for younger people, for people who enjoy competition and camaraderie, for those who are comfortable with gambling as long as the risks and rewards are clear. These are people who might not be quick to cotton to the pari-mutuel model, but can find a place to thrive in contests – and from there I see them also learning to play through the windows.

When people ask me how they should get involved more in racing – and many have since 6:53p.m. Saturday night, I am happy to suggest contests as a way in. The proliferation of daily fantasy sports – which is essentially gambling with a better PR campaign – can be a wonderful thing for horse racing, especially horse racing contests. Here is a proven audience of people willing to take financial risks on sporting events – and they’ve just seen the most exciting sporting event in the last few decades. For every hardcore fan like Susan and me, there were probably ten newbies in that Belmont grandstand, and if that stretch run into history didn’t leave them wanting more, nothing will.

What’s next for racing? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. But I say this with certainty: I’m excited to be a part of it and can’t wait to find out where we go from here.

Sondra Sturgeon More than 1 year ago
I got to see secretariat, seattle slew and affirmed, and now finally american pharaoh! Don't change the tripe crown, it the horse is great enough he will win it! I only hope I live long enough to see it!!!!
Sondra Sturgeon More than 1 year ago
they talked about changing the triple crown, well I think this says it all leave it the way it is and when a great horse comes along, no matter how long it takes, we will get another triple crown winner, In my life time I got to see secretariat and affirmed, and now american pharaoh, i only hope there will be at least one one i can live to see!
Felix Taverna More than 1 year ago
Well said Pete. Boom Boom
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cheers, Felix. Tx for writing in. I am a big Race and Sports Radio fan.
Chandru Sippy More than 1 year ago
As exciting as the triple crown event was, I do have a small beef with the TV & media in displaying the results of ALL of the exotic betting like the pick 4 payoffs. First NBC did not even telecast the results. On a google search the 0.50c payoff was listed around $2296. But that was incorrect - it was actually for $1.00. So the correct amount was about $1148. Why cannot NBC or the media in general get these payoffs right??? To add confusion, the official DRF payoff is for $2 bet even though the minimum is 0.50. At least the DRF had the correct payoffs unlike NBC and the internet search that gave erroneous base payoffs. Please show all of the official results if you want more young fans to be excited about horse racing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree that the mainstream coverage could do a better job covering the gambling element of things -- it's inherent to the sport.
Bobby Brendler More than 1 year ago
Gotta have seminars to teach em how to play and how to win. I have been preaching that to Laurel for years. I know just the guy to do it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We try to do the equivalent on our DRF podcast and through or webinars. But, for the record, I'd be happy to attend your Laurel seminar Bobby!
Kenneth Skahan More than 1 year ago
I am so tired of people talking about the loss suffered by Silver Charm at the Belmont. I think Baffert would admit that he just wasn't the Horse needed to win the Triple Crown. He was lucky to win a head-bob over Free House or people wouldn't be even talking about him. It clearly takes a Super Horse to win it. Of the last four winners, I believe only three were Super Horses, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and American Pharoah. Affirmed was a great horse but not in the category of these three, as he could not beat Seattle Slew. Please, give it a rest about Silver Charm.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I mentioned SC because it was a personal essay and an important part of the story. Wasn't meant to elevate him into the same company as racing all-time greats, but he was/is a cool horse. Sorry friend, but you can't take my memories from me.
Gilbert Maldonado More than 1 year ago
I think this is great for horse racing! Great article Peter!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you! I appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment.
dietcoke676 More than 1 year ago
the most important part is that american pharoah is owned by an immigrant-and obama had ruined all that by overturning the laws that kept us safe from illegal immigration-we are loosing our jobs to illegal aliens-that is why this triple crown win does NOT matter-it is rubbing salt in our collective wounds as americans-people cared when cali chrome was set to win-no one cares now=better to forget this ever happened
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Many apologies, but I have an appointment back on planet Earth.
Sondra Sturgeon More than 1 year ago
it is about the horse, not the owner, if you could have seen him train in person, as I did, you would take back your comment!
Jake Phillips More than 1 year ago
I spent most of my time Saturday downstairs with the crowd and I echo your sentiments about the ratio of "newbies" to seasoned players...other than to say it was maybe twice that number. I can't tell you how many times I stood at the windows, half figuring out my own play and half explaining to people, in front and behind me, the difference between an Exacta and a Trifecta. To some other seasoned players I could tell it was getting annoying, for me I loved every minute of it. At 33 years old I am by far the youngest player in the building at Sam Houston on a Thursday afternoon, but at Belmont on Saturday I began feeling OLD. There were SO MANY young kids there, most of them no more than 23 or 24, all dressed up and ready for the big event. All of them laughing and joking and having a good time, and all of them BETTING. Nobody seemed to just be there for the event, just to party. They all seemed to have a genuine interest and that is vital to the future of the sport.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow, that post makes me very happy Jake!
Gilbert Maldonado More than 1 year ago
I think this is a great starting point to try to win over fans. I live in Austin, Texas a place with zero racing or coverage and for the first time I can remember people are talking about it. Great Article Peter!
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Tx, Gilbert. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.