05/23/2010 11:00PM

2010 Crown lacks a dramatic finish


NEW YORK - When the book on the 2010 Triple Crown is finally closed, I will remember it for having four main characters. In no particular order, they will be:

Belmont Stakes winner - Of course, we don't know who that is yet, only that it won't be Lookin At Lucky, winner of Saturday's Preakness Stakes, or Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, who finished a tired eighth in the Preakness. Both are going to pass on the June 5 Belmont. So, we don't know how big a role the Belmont winner will have in this story.

In most cases, a Belmont Stakes lacking the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners means a race of questionable importance, with no guarantee that the winner is even a good horse. All you have to do is look back at the last two such Belmont Stakes. Jazil, in 2006, and Commendable, in 2000, were the last two Belmont winners who did not face the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Neither was a stakes winner before their Belmont scores, and neither won a race of any sort after winning the Belmont. But there is a chance that this time the Belmont winner could have more than just a marginal role here. That is not to say there is a wildly exciting prospect who has been sitting and waiting for the Belmont. But Lookin At Lucky and Super Saver have left plenty of room for someone - anyone - to share the spotlight with them.

Lookin At Lucky - Despite having already enjoyed considerable success - he was last year's champion 2-year-old male - Lookin At Lucky evolved into a sympathetic character going into the Preakness. Whatever chance he had to win the Kentucky Derby was all but taken away when he had the bad luck of drawing the one hole. It meant that, given the way he runs, it was about 99.5 percent certain that Lookin At Lucky would get knocked so far back in the early running that there was no way he could get up and win, and that is exactly what happened. Considering where Lookin At Lucky was an eighth of a mile into the Derby, he probably exceeded the expectations of many people by finishing as close as sixth. He did mine.

What's more, the Derby was a continuation of bad luck that plagued Lookin At Lucky in the only other races in which he was beaten. Lookin At Lucky also had a terrible draw in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile when he landed post 13 in a field of 13, and was tons the best missing by just a head after having a very wide trip that the awful draw guaranteed. And there was that rough trip Lookin At Lucky had when third in the Santa Anita Derby. You can make a strong case - a case I buy, incidentally - that Lookin At Lucky wasn't going to beat Sidney's Candy in the Santa Anita Derby with a clean trip. But there is no argument that Lookin At Lucky was not able to show his best in that race.

This is why there was some degree of justice seeing Lookin At Lucky get a fair shot in the Preakness. And to his credit, he capitalized on it. But it says something that Lookin At Lucky, after a perfect stalking trip in the Preakness, had to work as hard as he did to narrowly best the unheralded longshot First Dude, who surprised on a couple of levels by going right to the front and setting a faster-than-expected pace, and Jackson Bend, who had costly traffic trouble at a crucial point in upper stretch. It reinforces the belief that Lookin At Lucky has virtually no margin for error. For all his accomplishments, Lookin At Lucky just isn't all that much better than many of his contemporaries.

Super Saver - A primary excuse offered for Super Saver's empty effort in the Preakness is that he was undone by the quick two week turnaround between the Kentucky Derby and the second leg of the Triple Crown. I'm sorry, but this is not a legitimate excuse. I know horses are individuals, and some will handle a two-week turnaround better than others. I also know that Super Saver ran hard to win the Derby. But the other four horses in the Preakness who came out of the Derby also ran hard at Churchill. They all dealt with the same two-week turnaround, and Super Saver finished behind all four of them.

There was plenty of reason to believe in the post-race dissection of the Derby that Super Saver's victory was either aided by, or directly attributable to, the sloppy track, footing he had previously shown an affinity for. There was no guarantee that Super Saver could be as effective as he was in the Derby on drier footing, because he never had been. No one can take away Super Saver's win in the Kentucky Derby, but with the way he folded his tent on Saturday after prompting First Dude's pace, if he is to be considered a serious horse, the onus is now on him to prove it wasn't a wet-track fluke.

Eskendereya - I know that folks might not want to hear me beat this drum again, tiring of talk about a colt who wasn't even able to compete in the Triple Crown because of a career-ending injury. I also acknowledge that it's anyone's guess how Eskendereya would have handled the slop in the Derby, or how he would have done wheeling back in two weeks in the Preakness. But after what we've seen in the Derby and Preakness, and after seeing Jackson Bend finish so close Saturday, the same Jackson Bend who was beaten 8 1/2 and 9 3/4 when second to Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial, Eskendereya still casts a large shadow over this Triple Crown group, if only for what might have been.