06/11/2010 12:00AM

Critics of Triple Crown series are misguided


PHOENIX Three races, eight different one-two-three finishers, with only First Dude, who was second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont, managing to make up part of the trifecta payoff twice.

I keep hearing how the Triple Crown needs to be fixed but still am not sure why. The game doesn't need a Triple Crown winner; it needs a strong Triple Crown, and while there are no superstars in this year's crop there's no doubt the racing was intriguing and competitive. Each race saw something different: different winners, coming from different directions, different circuits with different styles. You saw fine non-winning performances and best of all, the notion that these 3-year-olds have set the table for a big division battle this summer. It's entirely possible Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky, Drosselmeyer, Ice Box, First Dude, Fly Down, and Jackson Bend will crash head-long into each other again in the Haskell or the Travers. Those races could also attract horses coming back for another shot, such as Sidney's Candy, Rule, Line of David, or Paddy O'Prado, along with perhaps a new shooter such as Trappe Shot or Golden Itiz, and a horse just coming into his own, a la Tiznow or Java Gold.

It sets up for an exciting summer, even if you believe this crop of 3-year-olds is below average.

Preakness holds up

One part of the Triple Crown talk that puzzles me is notion that the Preakness is the race that needs help. I'm not sure I buy that. After all, you had the Derby winner there this year and a number of other Derby combatants who handled themselves quite nicely, with Derby runners Lookin At Lucky and Jackson Bend finishing first and third. Last year, wonder-filly Rachel Alexandra beat the Derby winner Mine That Bird. The previous five editions were smashing in their own way -- Big Brown's tour de force, Curlin snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, Bernardini's coming-out performance under the dark skies of the Barbaro tragedy, Afleet Alex's incredible stumble and recovery, and Smarty Jones's display of power. How does a race that has produced all that recently need help?

If the Preakness had not been producing such drama and exploits -- say all that was saved for the Belmont -- then I would understand the notion of change. But I don't see any reason to mess with what the Preakness has given us. And for those who for some reason so badly want a Triple Crown winner I can guarantee you spreading the time frame for the three races will make the achievement even more difficult because it will give the vanquished more time to recover and come back and spoil things. If the Belmont was pushed back it would give some upstart more time to develop and turn into a Summing, Coastal, or Birdstone.

The Triple Crown talk now comes to a close but the reward from all this is the very real prospect of a fun, interesting, most competitive summer for these runners.

To give you a notion of how closely matched this group is, if all those horses meet in the Haskell or Travers later this summer, can you even tell more for sure who would be favored?

Some notes in the margins of the Form...

* Drosselmeyer's win in the Belmont Stakes may have been the cherry on the cake for trainer Bill Mott, but in case you hadn't noticed the cake itself has been pretty sweet for him recently. Earlier in the day, he sent out Proviso to win the Grade 1 Just a Game, this on the heels of sending out Treat Gently last month to win the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay and the unveiling of monster debut winner Flawless.

* Now hold off on bombarding me with nasty e-mails, letters, and phone calls, and keep the tomatoes tucked away, but I'm still a bit unclear as to why Quality Road is held in such regard. Do not get me wrong -- this is one real nice horse, probably the best male training in the U.S. But it has been written in more than one place that he's the "most talented around, bar none."

Huh? How can anyone say he's more talented than Zenyatta, who has never lost, beating the best males (including champion Summer Bird, whom Quality Road could not beat)? Can you name the best horse Quality Road has beaten? (Capt. Candyman Can, Dunkirk, Dry Martini?)

He looked super winning the Met Mile, yes, but he beat the same two horses (Musket Man and Warrior's Reward) that Atta Boy Roy vanquished in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap on Derby Day. Why is Quality Road's win over those two considered so much better than Atta Boy Roy's win over those same two?

* After another dazzling run-away-and-hold-on win by Acclamation in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham last week, I really want to see him and Presious Passion going toe to toe. It could happen in the United Nations at Monmouth Park.