06/07/2010 12:00AM

Triple Crown works just fine


NEW YORK - Like everyone else, I wish we had a shot for a Triple Crown winner on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes. Short of that, I wish the Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, and the Preakness winner, Lookin At Lucky, were up for a rubber match in the last, oldest, and longest of the Triple Crown races. Heck, I wish Eskendereya was still around to run in this race. Of course, none of this is on the table. But unlike so many others, I'm not so upset over the perceived state of the Triple Crown to think that the sky is falling and that we have to do something about it.

It is now 32 years since a horse won the Triple Crown and with the absence of the Derby and Preakness winners in the Belmont Stakes, there has again been a predictable reaction from some quarters: It is time to amend the Triple Crown.

One of the popular proposed changes to the Triple Crown is lengthening the gap between the Derby and Preakness from two to three weeks. Come on, it's just one week, supporters of this change say. Hardly anyone will notice. The change, they say, will be more reflective of today's game, where horses other than cheap claimers are almost never asked to race back in two weeks. It is almost as if the people who decide how frequently horses race should have the influence to effect such a profound change.

Well, there is one big reason why there should not be an additional week between the Derby and Preakness: history. How could we compare a horse who won the Triple Crown amended in this way with horses such as Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat, the most recent Triple Crown winners who somehow managed to survive the two-week gap between the Derby and Preakness? We couldn't. And that would be a major problem for a sport that has deep ties to the past that should be promoted, not trashed.

Then there is what could be called the Wayne Lukas redesign of the Triple Crown, which would cut the Derby distance back to 1 1/8 miles, leave the 1 3/16-mile Preakness alone, and cut the distance of the Belmont to

1 1/4 miles. Beyond ripping tradition's lungs out, this proposal would throw away one of racing's few remaining bits of cachet with the general public. Ask a mailman in Topeka what the fastest two minutes of sport is, and the chances are pretty good he will tell you it's the Kentucky Derby. But this would no longer apply with this change, and "the fastest minute and 50 seconds in sports" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

One proposed change that seems to have gained traction is running the Derby on the first Saturday in May, then running the Preakness the first Saturday in June and the Belmont the first Saturday in July. While that seems nice and neat, I think the result would be the exact opposite of the intended goal of making the Triple Crown more manageable, and thus a bit easier to win. For one, this would give late-developing 3-year-olds more time to reach peak form, meaning you could have many more dangerous newcomers to the later stages of the Triple Crown than we currently see. More importantly, while I'm no horseman, it does seem to me that it would be much more difficult keeping a horse -- specifically a Derby winner -- in form over the nine-week period of this proposal than it is over the five weeks of the Triple Crown we have.

In fact, the whole notion of dumbing down the Triple Crown by making it easier to win is simply wrongheaded because, for reasons that completely escape me, it ignores the most very recent history of the series. Seven of the last 13 Belmont Stakes had horses looking to win the Triple Crown (Big Brown in 2008, Smarty Jones in 2004, Funny Cide in 2003, War Emblem in 2002, Charismatic in 1999, Real Quiet in 1998, and Silver Charm in 1997), and three of those horses (Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, and Silver Charm) came within a length of winning. This has been an incredible run and confirms that the Triple Crown, which isn't supposed to be easy to win, works just fine as it is.

Shades of Ghostzapper

Thoughts on a couple of the big stakes over Memorial Day weekend:

It might not have been his flashiest victory ever, but Quality Road's win in Monday's Met Mile at Belmont was strong. And the scary thing is, Quality Road figures onl to improve. Because of his brilliance and his effectiveness at a wide range of distances, Quality Road is somewhat reminiscent of Ghostzapper. That's high praise, because Ghostzapper was truly a great race horse.

Tuscan Evening, who made it five straight graded stakes wins this year with her determined score in Saturday's Grade 1 Gamely Stakes at Hollywood, is really good. She is also really lucky. The Gamely was Tuscan Evening's third straight score while being a part of a slow early pace, which has to be a contributing factor to her getting longer distances now than she has in the past. And as for Gamely runner-up, Forever Together, she might not be every bit as good as she was when turf female champion in 2008, but she's still a force and will be hard to handle when she finally gets a legitimate pace to rally into.