06/26/2010 2:14PM

The Other Triple Crown


In the latest reconfiguration of the filly triple crown/tiara, which I wrote about in a Sunday DRF column, this year's version consists of the Acorn, the relocated-to-Saratoga CCA Oaks, and the Alabama. The change, apparently made to include the Acorn (on the Belmont Stakes undercard) to boost sponsorship visibility, is particularly illogical for racing purposes if you consider the following chart of the major Grade 1 dirt races in the division and the 3-year-old filly champions (highlighted in yellow) they have produced over the last 20 years:

(Sky Beauty was the last filly to win any version of a filly triple crown, when she won the Acorn, Mother Goose and CCA Oaks in 1993. She added the Alabama for good measure, but lost the title after finishing fifth to Hollywood Wildcat in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.)

Only one of the last 20 Acorn winners has been the divisional champion at year's end, as opposed to seven Kentucky Oaks winners, seven Alabama winners, six Mother Goose winners and four CCA Oaks winners.

In all, 14 of the last 20 champion 3-year-old fillies has won one at least of those four races, and 10 of the 20 won two. In the six years where the champion did not win one of those four races, there was either an inconsistent division where an unconventional campaign prevailed (Wait a While in 2006, Xtra Heat in 2001), or a filly's achievements against elders in the fall proved decisive (Surfside in 2000, Hollywood Wildcat in 1993, Saratoga Dew in 1992 and Dance Smartly in 1991.)

The chart below lists victories by 3-year-old fillies in the fall's five major Grade 1 races for three-and-up fillies on the main track:


It's interesting to note that from 1990 through 1998, nine consecutive champion 3-year-old fillies beat their elders in a Grade 1 at least once in the fall. Since then, only two have: Ashado in the 2004 Distaff and Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward last year. (Surfside clinched the 2000 title by running second in the Distaff to Spain and then beating older males in the then-G2 Clark Handicap.)

So what races should make up a filly triple crown if we're going to have one? I'd vote for the Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose and Alabama. I know, it stretches over almost four months, but those seem like the righjt three races and at least that trio would be at three different tracks. The Acorn just seems to have lost its championship relevance and the CCA Oaks is no longer a stamina test at Belmont but a prep for the Alabama on opening weekend at Saratoga.

Such a series would require two things: Stability, and a bonus. The constant reshuffling of the series --Acorn-MotherGoose-CCA Oaks through 2003, Mother Goose-CCA Oaks Alabam through 2009, Acorn-CCA Oaks-Alabama this year -- has confused everyone. A meaningful bonus could make the series a goal, and restore some attention to the division's major races.