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Triple Crown near-misses: Since Affirmed, 11 failed attempts
By Jay Hovdey
The notion persists, agonizing in its simplicity. If Spectacular Bid, as good as he was, couldn’t win the Triple Crown, nor Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, or Smarty Jones, was it ever reasonable to expect Pleasant Colony, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, or Big Brown to pull it off?
The question will be asked and answered again June 9 at Belmont Park when I’ll Have Another, the horse of the hour, is thrown into the maw of a daunting historical trend in his attempt to add the Belmont Stakes to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories.
Since 1979 there have been 11 horses with a chance to win the Crown and 11 horses who failed. By comparison, during the Triple Crown drought that stretched from 1949 through 1972 there were seven horses who won the Derby and Preakness before losing the Belmont.
Two of them – Tim Tam and Majestic Prince − went wrong and never raced again. Northern Dancer ran once more and was gone, and Canonero was off for nearly a year. Kauai King benefitted from the 1966 Triple Crown absence of Graustark and Buckpasser and, went the thinking, was a lucky overachiever. It also should be noted that Forward Pass, had he managed to win the 1968 Belmont, would have been burdened by an asterisk throughout history because he won the Derby only after Dancer’s Image was disqualified for running on Bute.
In fact, of those seven near Triple Crowns, only Carry Back shrugged off his Belmont defeat and soldiered nobly on, all the way to the Hall of Fame: He ran 30 times before losing the 1961 Belmont Stakes and 30 times after, one of those coming in the Arc de Triomphe.
Even as the frustrations of that earlier era unfolded, there was no widespread denigration of the breed, no hand-wringing over the state of the game. What was heard, year after year after year, was a firm reminder that the Triple Crown was extremely difficult to win, and to expect there ever would be another decade like the 1940’s − when there were four winners of the Crown – was a mistake.
Then came the 1970’s, when Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed won Triple Crowns, and Spectacular Bid appeared a mortal lock to join the club. When he did not – for want of a healthy hoof or a more sensible ride – it turned out to be apocalyptic. The golden era ended with a whimper, ushering in a three-decade span during which the idea of another Triple Crown winner has become no more substantial than a desert mirage. As Guildenstern observed to Rosencrantz after losing a 76th straight toss of the coin, all heads:
“A weaker man might be moved to re-examine his faith, if in nothing else at least in the law of probability.”
Immutable laws aside, explanations abound for the failures of the last 33 years. The horses have not been tested. They’re frail and feeble compared to Thoroughbreds of the past. They worked too fast. They worked too slow. And don’t get folks started about the rides they were given by jockeys caught like deer in the Triple Crown headlights.
It is to the eternal credit of the game’s most ardent believers that hope for I’ll Have Another abounds. The chorus is in full throat: He’s got the class, the style, the pedigree, and a young jock in Mario Gutierrez who fits him like a glove. If he wins, welcome to history. But if he doesn’t, if the coin toss comes up heads again, he will add a 12th chapter to a poignant collection of Triple Crown what-ifs since the day Affirmed dealt Alydar that final Belmont blow.
|Spectacular Bid (1979)||Pleasant Colony (1981)||Alysheba (1987)||Sunday Silence (1989)|
|Silver Charm (1997)||Real Quiet (1998)||Charismatic (1999)||War Emblem (2002)|
|Funny Cide (2003)||Smarty Jones (2004)||Big Brown (2008)|
Any more Triple Crown fizzles and we will wonder whether a Triple Crown is feasible. If I'll Have Another is the one to succeed at long last, he will make it seem like a reasonable goal for others.
Lets talk about the horses that won the Belmont stakes and never did nothing afterwards. like da tara , ruler on ice
IHA will win, what curse would this be ? Not Bambino ... $5mil bonus, the conditioners owners ect et al........Longden didn't want to run.......Ellsworth took Swaps home after yum brands...........spend a buck couldn't of won TC ? Kidding.........Johnny, asked to compare Count Fleet w/Swaps ? " The Count pull another horse & beat Swaps " Rex immediately replace w/Shoemaker......After IHA win Bel/TC to the winner really goes the spoils
I'll Have Another plusses: Strategic speed, gameness, ability to finish strong. I'll Have Another minuses: Not dominating in Derby and Preakness, not fresh (third long race in 5 weeks), rider not familiar with Triple Crown pressure, history is against him. My opinion? I'll Have Another has about a 1/3 chance to win. I'll be on somebody else - maybe this is when Alpha figures things out.
A horse is a horse, of course, of course And no one can talk to a horse, of course That is, of course, unless the horse Is the famous Mr. Ed. Go right to the source and ask the horse He'll give you the answer that you'll endorse You never heard of a talking horse? Well, listen to this: I am Mr. Ed.
How many Triple Crown might-have-beens have gotten derailed in the Derby when they were unable to run their race due to the huge fields? Reduce the Derby to a maximum 14 runners and you'll start to see more Triple Crown winners. Question is - can anyone make this happen?
Hope springs eternal. Is this the time Lucy doesn't pull the ball away and Charlie Brown finally kicks it into the history books? We shall see.
Went the Day Well has the times and the late run style to win the Belmont over I'll Have Another. Where is he? That would be an exacta to pound.
.."I'll have Another", it is another horse race to the horse, true horse players know this is a hard feat, 11 before, "Forward pass" controversy would have been an issue ,"Real Quite", would the stewards have taken him down? I will be rooting for "I 'll have another simply because it is what racing needs, but yes I will try and beat him.
Thank you, Jay Hovdey, for saying all that needed to be said. As usual, your prose is elegant, sparse and to the point, and profound.
- 1.Posted 12/04/2013 11:20AM
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