05/20/2011 3:40PM

Preakness Power


There are any number of reasons to root-root-root for Derby hero Animal Kingdom to win the Preakness on Saturday, not the least of them the fact that there can be no Triple Crown winner this year unless he does.

This is important, we have been told, because, a) a Triple Crown winner will save horse racing, b) no one really believes the Triple Crown can be won, c) NYRA needs the cash and, d) Sir Barton would like to stop spinning in his grave.

Word is also getting around that Preakness Day will mark the end of the world as we know it (please refer to http://www.ebiblefellowship.com/outreach/tracts/may21/), ushering in something called The Rapture, which I thought was one of the rock bands playing on Saturday in the Pimlico infield. A case can be made that the folks who run Belmont Park might be leaning that way if Animal Kingdom does not win, since the chance of a Triple Crown winner makes the Belmont Stakes the race of the year. But then, New York's got slots coming, so they'll be fine.

When it comes to making predictions, dire or otherwise, radical evangelicals have got nothing on the post-Derby media. They are, if nothing else, predictable. Here is a sampling of what issues forth each year before the Derby winner's test has even cleared:

"There was good reason to predict a Triple Crown sweep for Fusiachi Pegasus after his seemingly effortless performance in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday." -- New York Times, May 8, 2000.

"Saturday's winner of the 127th Kentucky Derby (Monarchos) has solid credentials to complete the sweep that has been denied such recent challengers as Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Charismatic." -- New York Daily News, May 7, 2001. 

"It has been 28 years since Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner, but based on his Derby performance Barbaro forcefully suggested that he can end that drought." -- Sports Illustrated, May 15, 2006.

"'Going into the Preakness, this horse (Street Sense) is just going into his fourth race of the year, and that's significant,' Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas says. 'He's in a real good position to ge the second leg.'" -- USA Today,  May 7, 2007.

The anxiety is undestandable. It has been 33 years since the Triple Crown was won. The median age of the 308 million or so residents of the United States is 36. That means before too long more than half the population will have been born since Affirmed took the crown in 1978. Soon it will be easier to explain mule-skinning and gaslamps to the kids.

Of course, there are very good reasons there has been no Triple Crown winner since Affirmed. The first one that comes to mind is that there has been no 3-year-old colt as good and consistent and sturdy as Affirmed since 1978. Cite all the Funny Cides, Big Browns and Smarty Joneses you want -- all Derby winners who romped at Pimlico -- winning a Derby and a Preakness is a tall order, and it takes a young horse who is both very good and very lucky, at least for these two weeks of his life, and still have a winning race left for the Belmont Stakes three weeks down the line.

So if Animal Kingdom should fail, and go down swinging, please let there be no hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. To win he will have to be both good and lucky again, because Mucho Macho Man brings his game every time, Dialed In has too much ability to hold the Derby against him, and Dance City bears the look of a colt who is ready and willing to play at this level.