06/30/2010 12:00AM

Let's hope we see Big Three in a showdown


PHILADELPHIA - When 2010 began, I was not sure what to expect from this group of horses. The 2009 2-year-olds were underwhelming. But, with the news that Zenyatta was being un-retired, there were possibilities.

The first half of this year has played out with few surprises. The second half? To be determined.

Turned out, through the Triple Crown, the 3-year-olds were even weaker than expected. Let's imagine a second half of the season where Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky or Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer win nothing of significance.

Frankly, only Lookin At Lucky does anything for me under the best of circumstances. If, however, you are in that camp, the news that he recently missed some training time is not comforting.

So, consider the possibility that none of the Triple Crown race winners accomplishes anything more. And no hot 3-year-old takes over in the final six months of the year. Given how strong the older horses are, it is hard to imagine any 3-year-olds winning serious stakes come autumn.

So, Eskendereya, clearly the fastest 3-year-old, could end up being your champion even though his last race was in early April.

I get that the Derby is worth major extra credit. I also get that Lookin At Lucky has more than a one-race r sum . Still, this group is so slow that I really wonder if there is a worthy champion among them.

If it comes to that, it would be an interesting choice for the voters. Do you go with the best horse, who was gone before the most important races? Or do you try to figure out which of an undistinguished group is worthy of a championship?

Perhaps, in another six months, this will become a moot point. Maybe, some horse will string together the Haskell and the Travers. But what if we get different winners of those races and none of them is named Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky or Drosselmeyer?

If you don't think that can happen, you were not watching the Triple Crown races. I am not sure any of those races were won so much as not lost by the winners. There just was no dazzling visual or Beyer performance. And I have very little confidence any of the known horses are going to start giving those kinds of performances.

One of the many issues with American racing is the public's infatuation with the Triple Crown at the expense of all other racing.

It's not unlike a golf tournament with Tiger Woods and one without him. The rest of the players hold little interest.

Tiger is playing this week at Aronimink outside Philadelphia. In the practice rounds, he has drawn thousands. The other players have drawn dozens.

We have three potential Hall of Fame horses racing in 2010. And nobody, beyond our insulated world of horse racing, knows much about any of them.

Zenyatta should be like Seabiscuit back in the day. But the day has changed. Too many sports. Too much competition. Too short attention spans.

Could you imagine what it would have been like in the 1930s and 1940s if some horse had won 17 straight races, especially if that horse was a mare and she was as physically imposing as Zenyatta? Alas, that ship has sailed.

I am really looking forward to the second half of 2010 because of the possibilities. As uninspiring as this Triple Crown was, July to early November has a chance to be special.

I would like to see the Big Three -- Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Quality Road -- be in the same race. And hopefully, more than once.

Given that this is horse racing, I don't hold out much hope for that. But I can dream.

The absolute best thing about the Derby is that there is no ducking it. If you are serious about your horse, you have to be in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

It is the only must-enter race on the calendar. Yes, it does mean a few dreamers lose all perspective. But there is nothing ambiguous about the race. Fans don't have to worry about which horses will be there. They are all in.

That, of course, is not how the rest of the calendar works. There, we have too many choices for the same group of horses. We have conflicting races on the same dates for the same division. We make it way too easy to avoid confrontation instead of encouraging it.

But, as we head into the second half of 2010, I have vowed to put my cynicism in the barn. With hindsight, it is clear the 2010 Triple Crown was glorious. And, with foresight, it is very clear the Big Three will meet up on the track and what the horses actually do will matter more than what we might think they will do.