05/20/2014 10:24AM

Jerardi: Triple Crown should change with the times

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ben's Cat wins the Jim McKay Turf Sprint on Friday at Pimlico.

The Kentucky Derby is not moving from the first Saturday in May. The Belmont Stakes obviously could move from its Saturday date in early June, but New York Racing Association officials might not want to move it. Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas has made it clear that he would like to move the Preakness farther back from the Derby and change the spacing between the Triple Crown races.

Once upon a time, I was opposed. I changed my mind a few years ago. The whole sport has changed dramatically in the last decade. Horses don’t race as much. The very top-class horses almost never run back in two weeks, except from the Derby to the Preakness. Top-class horses do not run three times in five weeks except during the sport’s most important event.

So, the argument in favor of the status quo is that the spacing between races has changed in every other circumstance but can’t be changed in the Triple Crown because of tradition and honoring the horses who won it the old way. I do understand the argument. It is not irrational. I just think it is unrealistic, given how much the very nature of the game has changed.

In the last 20 years, we certainly have had horses who ran well enough to have won the Triple Crown. Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, Afleet Alex, and Silver Charm certainly did. I am not sure that the spacing beat them as much as circumstances and luck.

Still, I would not be opposed to a schedule that holds Triple Crown races on the first Saturday in May, the first Saturday in June, and the first Saturday in July.

“The philosophy of the trainers has drastically changed over the years,” Chuckas said. “It is hard for them to bring a horse back from the Derby in two weeks and run a horse three times in a five-week period. Most of them will not do it. But this idea is not just for the Triple Crown races. We have an obligation to the public to put our best racing on the table when the world is watching, and we are not doing that.

“We could promote a Woodford-Dixie-Manhattan series for older turf stars and a Triple Crown filly series with the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and Acorn. All those things are possible, but it is going to demand a collaborative effort between the parties to make this happen.”

I think Chuckas is right. Still, if it stays the way it is, and I am thinking NYRA will decide that, I would not complain. And I definitely will be there no matter when they run the races.

Ben’s Cat to Penn National next

The second annual Penn Mile will be the featured race May 31 at Penn National, but when you have a supporting feature like the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup and a star like Ben’s Cat to run in it, you have a night to anticipate.

That was Ben’s Cat winning his 21st stakes race just before the Black-Eyed Susan last Friday at Pimlico. It was his third win in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint. The 8-year-old, trained by Maryland legend King Leatherbury, needs just $32,010 to hit $2 million in career earnings.

In the 2013 Governor’s Cup, Ben’s Cat was nearly pushed to the outer rail of the grass course and still managed to close to be third. With a reasonable trip, Ben’s Cat is always the one to beat.

“He’s been the same over the past five years,” Leatherbury said. “I criticize myself taking so much for granted. I expect to win. He’s spoiling me ... We say it every year: He’s better than ever. How long can we say that? He’s 8. How long can he keep going like this? Nine? Ten? Eleven? It’s hard to believe. He’s a remarkable, amazing horse.”

Nice bet

Tim Lanning might not have been willing to bet $50,000 of his own money on California Chrome to win the Preakness. But when the grand prize winner of Xpressbet’s $50,000 Preakness Big Bet Sweepstakes had to determine where to place the free $50,000 win bet, he made the correct choice.

With no downside, he had a chance to win $75,000 if the 1-2 favorite won the Preakness. California Chrome did his part, and Lanning got the money.