07/02/2015 3:43PM

Gisser: Lessons from the Thoroughbred Triple Crown

Barbara D. Livingston
It took 37 years for American Pharoah to end the Thoroughbred Triple Crown drought.

I am not much of a thoroughbred guy. I watch and wager on the Kentucky Derby, sure; there’s bourbon involved. Maybe the Breeders Cup for a couple hours on Saturday. But I hardly ever watch the Preakness, and I only watch the Belmont when we have a possible Triple Crown winner. So, even though I was on the road on June 6, I found a cigar shop, purchased a CAO MX2 Belicoso, watched American Pharoah make history, and made some new friends. I’ll be honest . . . I thought this year’s crop was average, but I’m no expert and you can only beat who you race against, so take nothing away from the Triple Crown champ.

It’s hard to believe it has been 37 years since we had a T-bred Triple Crown winner. In that time there have been two trotters and four pacers who have won harness racing Triple Crowns. It’s also surprising that many in Thoroughbred racing want more time between the races.

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Yes, it would be easier on the horses. But the sport would lose the media coverage and publicity that a run like American Pharoah’s builds. And it makes it a truly special occurrence. Even casual fans can name the 1978 Triple Crown winner. Many can name the horse who beat him three times in his career and was second to him several more and, but for the accident of the year of his birth, probably also would have been a Triple Crown winner (Affirmed and Alydar). How many of the harness Triple Crown winners since 1978 can you name?

I get that our Triple Crown is broken. Most top trotters refuse to race in one leg because it’s held on a half-mile track. If memory serves, a pretty good pacer owned by a pretty well-known figure in the sport skipped a Triple Crown race on a half-mile track a few years back. How ironic that they are two of the three (of six) Triple Crown races that has been at the same track for every renewal, despite owner Myron Bell’s claim that “our Triple Crowns have become a wandering minstrel show.” The old minstrel shows chose to travel from town to town. The Triple Crown races were forced to. Myron, I would argue that our Triple Crowns have been more like our ancestors in the Sinai Desert, looking for the Promised Land. Jeff Gural seems to have shown a strong desire to end the wandering, now hosting the Cane Pace at the Meadowlands. The Little Brown Jug, Yonkers Trot and Kentucky Futurity remain at their original homes. The Messenger is back in New York. Quick,how many tracks have hosted the Hambletonian? My gut says it is pretty stable at The Meadowlands, but it is the sixth track to host our most prestigious race.

Bell agrees with me that the Triple Crown is broken. He says it’s unfixable and wants to replace it with a series of his own aggregation. Respectfully, I disagree.

First, let’s race our Triple Crowns in the same timeframe as the one where they sit down right on the horse! Three races in five weeks (granted a couple have multiple heats which might allow us to stretch it out an extra week or so). That takes a true champion to win and keeps the sport in the public eye. This year, the Trotting Triple Crown will be contested over a more than two month period. With a month between races, the general public will lose interest. Can’t we squeeze them a week closer on each end? The pacers are a bit tighter, but there is still room for improvement.

(Column aside): So glad to see both Yonkers and The Meadowlands contesting their Triple Crown events—Messenger and Yonkers Trot; Hambletonian and Cane—on both gaits on the same day. Create a major event, draw a huge number of fans and create energy for the casual fan who just happens in. Love it.

If the Meadowlands raced an extra week and the Jug was pushed a week earlier, the schedule would be perfect. Pacers would race in the Cane, get a week off and race their Messenger elim (if needed) and the Messenger final, and then ten days later the Jug (I could live with the Jug and its unique Thursday race day staying where it is, leaving two full weeks and a few days).

It’s more problematic on the trotting side. Lexington’s stakes meet coincides with the sales and that won’t change. But it would be pretty damn exciting if they could race at the end of September and we could get the whole thing done in a month-and-a-half.

Add Mr. Bell’s proposed $1,000,000 or more bonus and the Triple Crown becomes something really special. I am very glad to see that he has changed his mind about including smaller tracks as his concept has evolved. It would be a mistake to drop the Yonkers Trot. The key to Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown is its history. Cut out Yonkers and you cut out a piece of our racing history. But it’s his deal and he’s the one putting in the work so he gets to make the call on which races will be included. Hopefully he will reconsider and take another look at the “traditional” Triple Crown for his project. The only question remaining for Mr. Bell and his Grand Slam of Racing (other than if he can pull it off) is whether he will offer the same number of races for both trotters and pacers, rather than making it harder for horses on one gait to win his bonus. Grand Slam of Racing . . . I like that. It sounds a lot better than the Quadruple Crown or the Quintuple Crown.  But still not as good as the Triple Crown. Now go cash.

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