05/25/2012 12:07AM

Triple Crown bid is a race against history

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Bob Coglianese

1978

Affirmed beats Alydar by a nose in the Belmont to become the 11th, and last, Triple Crown winner.

When I’ll Have Another attempts to win the Belmont Stakes on June 9 and capture the Triple Crown, he must do more than defeat a formidable group of opponents. He must overcome history.

The Triple Crown series almost unfailingly thwarts horses who are not among the sport's all-time greats. In the past 64 years, only Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed  have swept the 3-year-old classics. Since Affirmed’s success in 1978, a total of 11 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness before failing in the Belmont Stakes.

If a committee of experts tried to design a definitive test of American racehorses, it could not have devised one more effective than the Triple Crown series. In theory, a less-than-great horse ought to be able to beat a subpar group of rivals three times or hit a streak of hot form lasting for a few weeks. But of the 11 Triple Crown winners, only one - Omaha in 1935 - might be considered a fluke.

Profiles of Triple Crown winners

Sir Barton (1919) Gallant Fox (1930) Omaha (1935) War Admiral (1937)
Whirlaway (1941) Count Fleet (1943) Assault (1946) Citation (1948)
Secretariat (1973) Seattle Slew (1977) Affirmed (1978) ?

No one conceived or planned the Triple Crown. It evolved haphazardly. The distances and schedule of the races underwent various changes over the years before it took its present form in the 1970s:  the 1 1/4-mile Derby is run at Louisville’s Churchill Down on the first Saturday in May. The 1 3/16-mile Preakess is contested two weeks later at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Three weeks later, Belmont Park on Long Island is the site of the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the series.

When Sir Barton won the three stakes for 3-year-olds in 1919, there was no Triple Crown. Charles Hatton, a Daily Racing Form columnist, began using the term in the 1930s, and when Whirlaway completed a sweep in 1941, he was the first horse universally hailed as a Triple Crown winner. The Thoroughbred Racing Associations created a Triple Crown trophy in 1950.

Four horses won the Triple Crown in the 1940s, but no horse did it in the quarter of a century between Citation in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973. The 1970s, the so-called decade of champions, produced three Triple Crown winners. But now 34 years have passed since Affirmed outdueled Alydar in an epic Belmont battle.

Before 1978, horses who captured two-thirds of the Triple Crown were just as likely to be foiled in the Derby or Preakness as the Belmont. Racing luck was a frequent culprit; Native Dancer's rough trip cost him the 1953 Derby and Little Current was badly blocked in 1974.

But since Affirmed's triumph, the Belmont Stakes has become the great obstacle in the Triple Crown. Two changes in the modern game have made the Belmont so elusive. American Thoroughbreds have become less durable, and running three times in a five-week period is more stressful for modern horses than for their ancestors. (The schedule used to be even more demanding. Sir Barton had only three days' rest between the Derby and the Preakness.)  Relatively few modern-day horses compete in all three legs of the series unless they are pursuing a Triple Crown sweep, in which case they are usually facing a field of fresher rivals.

The major difficulty in the Belmont, however, is its distance. Contemporary American horses almost never compete at 1 1/2 miles on the dirt. Few are bred to run so far. The history of the race suggests strongly that a horse's running style plays a great part in determining his effectiveness. And the ideal style for the Belmont is antithetical to the style that often succeeds in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Horses frequently seize command of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness with one bold move - usually on the final turn. But when a horse tries to unleash a similar burst at Belmont Park, he still has a seemingly endless stretch in front of him, and rarely can sustain momentum to the finish line.

Many horses have won the Derby or the Preakness with eye-catching acceleration on the turn: Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999). All of them lost their Triple Crown bid in the Belmont, and almost all of them were fading in the last quarter-mile.

Plodders sometimes win the Belmont and speed horses often do - but in either case they are likely to be even-paced runners, not ones whose forte is sharp acceleration. When Affirmed led all the way in 1978, he meted out his speed, running the first quarter-mile in 25 seconds flat and the final quarter in 25.20. Such controllable speed is the most formidable asset a horse can have in the Belmont. It is no coincidence that the past four Triple Crown winners won the race by leading all the way.

As I’ll Have Another bids to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, he has certain obvious strengths and weaknesses. He has not yet proved himself to be in the class of greats such as Secretariat and Affirmed. He will be competing for the third time in five weeks against challengers who have been given a breather before the Belmont. But he appears to have a respectable pedigree, and he possesses a blend of speed and stretch-running  ability that could add up to an effective running style at 1 1/2 miles. Now he has a chance to add his name to a list that includes some of the greatest Thoroughbreds who ever lived.

This article was revised from a previously published Andrew Beyer column.

Erich Penhoff More than 1 year ago
I'll have another may just take the crown, his conditioning is superb, his pacing is great and his jockey has the beginners courage. However Union Rags, should be right there, he got a bad start out of the gate, was squeezed and had to put the brakes on. Still he rallied against the best horses to finish well in fifth place. Stretching out to 1 1/2 miles may just gives him enough time and distance to close the gap with the leaders. He is rested and the trainer was able to concentrate his training on the Belmont curse 'Distance.
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
Everything written here is true. Union Rags remains a mystery to me, however. One potential advantage he has that you didn't mention is that he liked Belmont as a juvenile. That was around one turn, though. And Mr. Matz is keeping U. R. from refamiliarizing himself with the surface by keeping him in Fair Hills or wherever, while IHA trains up a storm at Belmont every day. Trying to guess whether U. R. has a champion-caliber race up his sleeve or whether he doesn't quite stack up at age three is just a throw of the dart, to me.
ron breton More than 1 year ago
I just read andrew's revised column,,he needs a breather ,,, now give us your numbers and stop trying to handicap...leave that to the pro's
Tom Gregory More than 1 year ago
im going to buy the triple crown for i'll have another by betting dullahan and union rags on top of him in the exacta
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Just looked back in to see if this rambling mess has improved with age... Nuh-Uh! Still reads like a term paper from a High School Sophomore. You know Andy, something truthful like your apology to Jockey Martinez would move it way up. But they don't pay you for truth do they?
R. Martin More than 1 year ago
I am going to look up the Beyers, the Horoscope, the Tomlinsons, al the tout sheets, Andy's opinion on DRF, who got the Fibonacci post position numbers, and then my friend "The Chinaman" and I are backing Dullahan, Union Rags and Optimizer, all to Win
Merrill More than 1 year ago
Good old Andy. Not only does this entire article tell us all what we already know about the history of the Triple Crown, it proves further that Mr Beyer is a blowhard, who capitalized on a stupid number theory, is pretty lame. First he runs down the whole crop of horses this year and now he is maybe in IHA,s corner. Andy Beyer would be hard pressed to pick a train out of landscape. I am sick of his worthless information. I'll Have Another should have no problem winning The Belmont. Doug O'Neill Knew and Knows that he had the best horse. From the get go, he has all along known that this horse was probably going to be a star. Just wait................You ain't seen nothin yet. He wins by 7 widening lengths!!!!
Chris Szabo More than 1 year ago
I don't think there's anything wrong with revising a previously published article, presumably written about a completely different horse in totally different circumstances, but I'd rather see Mr. Beyer put a little more effort into writing about this particular subject. He's publishing an article about history, & the chances that a particular horse, trainer, & jockey might pull off a Triple Crown win. As much as I enjoyed his article, he'd do the sport service by investing more of himself into it, and provide meaningful analysis of how IHA fits, or does not fit the mold of a TC winner in today's circumstances. IHA has already proven himself a flawless champion in 2012, let's live in the moment , appreciate this special occasion, & gauge his chances on his merits.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
'Fill in the blanks journalism'. Handy thing for Andy... til it's discovered.
Derek Getty More than 1 year ago
It seems the reason that so many don't give IHA the credit that he MIGHT deserve, is that he simply hasn't run that fast yet. However, it seems to me that he keeps getting better and really hasn't hit his best yet this year. In other words, instead of regressing speed figure wise, like most do in the Belmont, he may actually be sitting on the biggest race to date and come in with a 112 or 115 figure. The only problem I have is that everyone says he has the pedigree for it. Really?? Where?? Maybe way back you can find lots of stamina influence but what about in the last 3 generations and what about on the mothers side? His sire was a 2nd level winner that was not at the top of his crop as a 3 year old, Afleet Alex was. Once AA was injured and out of the picutre, along with all of the other top contenders of that year, Flower Alley won some races with really nobody in them. On the mothers side, you can't find anything!
ERIC More than 1 year ago
Class is a damsire calculation. He is short on total Dosage only having 14 points. But his CI is .5 which is where it should be. Oh yeah, there is that damsire thing...I think his name is ARCH, sire of Blame, you might have heard of him. In addition, if you are REALLY looking at class. The place to look is the number of times he has finished first in a row. I think he is up to 5 now and no losses this year. Will I include another horse as likely to win, yeah. But it is not the horses being touted here. ALWAYS look at trainer intent.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
UNION RAGS, DULLAHAN, ALPHA, AND PAYNTER AS THE CLASSY,FRESH, PACE SETTER. anybody comparing IHA to a triple crown winner at thus point is sadly over rating his victories. he's had good posts and clean trips. thus the victories. he has shown courage and heart winning but literally speaking and figuratively has no where near the heart of secretariat,slew,and others. prematurely giving him the credit will only add to the disappointment of his looming defeat.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
I thought the triple crown left town with Bode...
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
At 2yo, IHA was hooked by Creative Cause in a sprint and gave way readily. Secretariat. IHA would get his revenge in his second race back as a 3yo, outfinishing Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby. He hooked Bodemeister and ran by him in both the Derby and the Preakness. So he's 3-1 in that department, of course it's on the light side considering that he has had only 7 starts. There are dozens of horses that you could use to show that, but not Secretariat or Seattle Slew. Secretariat was hooked only twice in his career, in the prestigious Whitney and Woodward. He lost both of them, he's 0 for 2. Seattle Slew was really tested only 3 times, once in the Kentucky Derby and twice in the same race in 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup - we know that story, we'll consider him 3-0. At this point in his career, IHA is even with Seattle Slew and has shown way more courage and heart than Secretariat. This is an indisputable fact, it doesn't mean that Secretariat is less talented, he's probably way more talented. But if I handicap a race and I see among them two horses, one with the running lines of Secretariat and one with the running lines of IHA, I will bet IHA cause I will probably get 6-1 on IHA and 2/5 on Secretariat, and I will take my chances.
Cal Levi More than 1 year ago
Since when is 19 a good post in the KD? oh. . . That's right, since the first horse in the history of the derby, IHA, won from it.
michael schultz More than 1 year ago
This is the first time that I noticed; in the years that the triple crown was won, the US stock market was in the throes of a secular bear market each time. I guess that makes IHA a shoo-in at Belmont this year!