35

  •  The jersey number of Phil Esposito.
  • The atomic number of bromine.
  • The US Interstate highway that runs between Texas and Minnesota. 

And the number of years without a Triple Crown winner. Orb (tracing back to Ruffian’s full sister, Laughter, on his dam’s side) was soundly beaten in the Preakness this past Saturday. I don’t think he ran badly – he did pass two in the stretch – but he fell victim to his need for a decent pace (opening half mile was quite slow) and being uncomfortable trapped on the rail. It leaves a lot of questions specific to the situation, but also on a broader front.

There were four Triple Crown winners in the 40’s and then none until Secretariat’s win in ’73 (followed by Seattle Slew in ’77 and Affirmed in ’78). We’re in a multi-decade long funk like we were between the 40’s and 70’s. Why? Are we going through a phase of breeding where the horses aren’t good enough, or has the competition and talent increased such that it’s nigh impossible for one individual to standout?

The Kentucky Derby is always the most traffic laden of the three races. I consider it the second hardest of the three to win based on the large field that always goes to post. A lot of expected winners have run into bad racing luck, getting shuffled back, getting trapped in the pack, being interfered with, or having to go extremely wide covering extra distance. Orb managed to stay out of trouble by settling near the back of the pack and then circling wide, which was right in his racing style wheelhouse. Everyone was practically gushing over his performance on an off-track, I thought it was okay.  He benefitted from a super fast opening and was passing tired horses.

The Preakness is the shortest of the trio and least suited to come-from-behind horses like Orb. Front runners and those with tactical speed have an advantage.  Oxbow, this year’s winner, ran a pretty impressive Derby finishing sixth.  He was near the front for all those super fast fractions and was the only front runner not to crawl home.  Once he got the easy lead in The Preakness with a sedate pace, the race was over.

The final leg, The Belmont, is the grueling mile and a half. The field is usually short for this race, the distance not an American TB favorite. A lot of horses have won the first two races only to have their crown denied at Belmont Park. Five horses won the Derby and Preakness in the 60’s only to lose in the Belmont. An additional two (to the three Triple Crown winners) did the same in the 70’s – that was a big decade in racing; one we’ve arguably been unable to repeat, three in each the 80’s and 90’s conquered the first two legs and another five have managed the task since the turn of the century.

There’s always a lot of talk about the timing of the three races; just two weeks between The Derby and The Preakness, and The Belmont three weeks after that. Three races in five weeks done by horses that typically only race once every couple of months or so. Of course, if the Triple Crown was for four or five year olds, with better training bases on more mature bodies instead of for three year olds in the spring…

The racing industry is desperately hoping for another Triple Crown winner to increase interest and support to a sector that’s been harshly criticised over the years; a horse that the people can rally behind. It won’t be this year.

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32 thoughts on “35

  1. I too have always wondered why there haven’t been any Triple Crown Winners in a very long time. In my younger years, before I was made aware of some of the nastiness that goes on backstage, I was an avid racing fan. I used to know all the best bloodlines and the most successful jockies. I watched every race on tv and even managed to beg my parents to take a horsey friend of mine and me to the Derby once and the Breeder’s Cup twice. My first crush was Secretariat. Yes, I am aware that he was a horse. 🙂 But once my eyes were opened to the blatant abuses that went on in the racing world, I just couldn’t watch it anymore and refused to participate in any way financially. The year that Big Brown won the Derby, I was in St. Thomas working on a boat. The first mate asked me if I knew anything about him and that someone had advised him to bet some major cash. I looked at him on the Internet and told him what I thought. He ended up winning ten thousand dollars on him. Of course he wanted to brag about it and asked why I didn’t put any cash up myself. I told him my reasons and he laughed at me, of course. But that’s the problem with the industry. Those horses used to be treated like celebrities and now they’re just cash cows until they’ve out lived their money earning potential. Just a few years ago a Seattle Slew grandson was sold in the sale in my hometown for thirty dollars. Story was he lost a race the day before and they trucked him out of state to the nearest and soonest sale available. I don’t know what happened to him. Just makes me sad. Sucks when your childhood fairyland gets torn apart in your mind, you know. So, sorry about the rant. Just can’t get excited about the horse racing industry anymore… and I don’t think I’m the only one. They have a long row to hoe before they get some of their fans back and I don’t think a Triple Crown Winner is going to do it.

    • I feel the exact same way as you. I used to love following the triple crown races, but I just can’t anymore. I know too much about what happens to these horses and it breaks my heart. The racing industry needs a complete over-haul if it wants to bring fans back, not just a triple crown winner.

  2. I am glad they have a Triple Crown. Maybe someday someone will wake up to the fact that a sound (and maybe more mature) horse is needed to win it. I don’t watch anymore, I think the horses are beautiful, but it’s just to sad for me.

  3. M – I believe you meant to say THREE weeks between the Preakness and Belmont, not four. Eighteen days, 14 hours to the most grueling race that seems to go on forever.

    I’m glued to the Triple Crown and Breeder’s Cup races year after year, as much for tradition as anything else. Secretariat made a huge influence on me as a kid and I haven’t outgrown the passion. I now know the uglier side of racing, the politics, the drugs, the breakdowns and coverups. I’m always torn between the hype and reality, with stories such as Zenyatta giving me hope for the industry.

    My dream horse is a Seattle Slew/AP Indy male line crossed on an Irish or UK brick shit house type of female line proven to be hardy with legs of iron. There is no logic to this, I’m infatuated by the SS line, always have been. Nope, never heard a peep about those neurological issues either.

    Until I can breed my own, I wonder if I’ll see another TC winner in my lifetime. Sure has been a long, long time. I’m still standing behind Mylute and hope he gets a chance at Belmont. He’s still run the best combined races of the first two legs. Fifth and 3rd, shows he has the talent but where is his kick?????

    • Thank you, clearly I am mathematically challenged.

      Mylute was running strong at the end of both races. Perhaps his jockey needs to move him sooner or place him forward a bit better?

      • I think he’d have a chance if he was 8-10 lengths off the leaders. He’s gaining ground but too much ground to cover. Rose had him in the back of the pack both races…it may be his running style but it seems to be keeping him out of the big $$. Nice colt.

        • As tough and confident, and *I’m just one of the boys* as she talks, I think it’s her feminine side that prevents her from being more aggressive and taking that chance with Mylute. It’s hard to over ride that ingrained nurture stuff. On the other hand, the horse may simply not have been ready yet. I only see 3 starts prior to the Derby for Mylute. That’s not a lot of racing prep and a horse needs to race, not simply train, to get experienced enough and conditioned enough to race a series like this. For instance, everyone knew that Orb wasn’t likely going to be happy about being down on the rail. Imagine if they’d set up his training to deal with that and then raced him a time or two more, in easier company, and specifically put him there so that he could gain experience and get used to it… of course, the TC is for 3 yr olds in the Spring, so there often isn’t time for those extra couple of races beforehand.

  4. I don’t watch USA racing ever unless something’s been brought to my attention.

    I am however a racing and t/b enthusiast. In Great Britain where the idea of a ‘Triple Crown’ came into existence wayyyy ago in the mid 1800’s there’s only been 15 triple crown winners. With flat racing’s emphasis on speed rather than stamina and staying power I’d say that’s no surprise at all and really no change from how it’s been for over 150 years.

    • Can you give us some details about the TC in GB? Which races, how long are they, when are they scheduled, who was the last winner…things of that nature.

      • Sorry for the delay…. been farming!

        2000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket – 1 mile – end April/beginning May
        Epsom Derby at Epsom 😉 – 1 mile 4 furlongs – June
        St Leger at Doncaster – 1 mile 6 furlongs and a bit – September (a long distance for a flat racer at the end of the season and possibly the one that prevents it being something that is regularly or easily won)

        Last winner was Nijinsky in 1970
        One before was 35 years earlier in 1935 and Bahram
        Prior to that 1918, Gainsburgh
        and just 1917, Gay Crusader and the 1917 and 1918 horses were both trained by the same trainer: Alec Taylor

        Interestingly, horse racing was one of the only sports to continue during the world wars… though very depleted/limited indeed some courses were commandeered to be used in the war effort and some had to be closed because of their proximity to areas which were persistently bombed. For instance the Grand National at Aintree, Liverpool…. where there’s huge docks and ship building and the Cheltenham Gold cup; Cheltenham is where the Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ) is situated.

        Continuation of racing during the wars was VERY controversial and there were races held with disruption by protesters and also one held even during a bombing raid! And that might well be a reason why there were 2 winners during the war and by the same trainer.

        • Thank you. A couple of questions: Are the races for three year olds? Are the races in the same weeks of the month?

          That’s quite a task having the last race several months after the first two. It would be quite a challenge to keep, maintain or bring back a horse to peak over that time period and especially with last being the longest.

          Again with a triple crown winner in the 70’s. That was one heck of a decade for the TB for some reason.

          • They’re all races for 3 year olds.

            Nijinsky was exceptional. He was indeed 3 years old when he got it… He was the outstanding 2year old the year before. No doubt you know about him as he was by the famous Canadian stallion Northern Dancer. However he took after his dam and he was a big and powerful horse standing just shy of 17 hands. He was trained by Vincent O’Brien who also does National Hunt horses and has had several Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup winners. He had the typical Irish Trainer approach to training and in those days they tended not to be so specialist and did a lot of varied stuff and to develop stamina and speed.

            There’s been several horses got 2 wins under their belts but often they’re not even entered into the St Leger…. that is indeed the “stamina” one and as I said in my first post for flat racing it’s speed not stamina that’s required and desired so frankly I don’t blame Trainers and Owners for not really much bothering about it nowadays.

  5. http://www.horseracingnation.com/horse/Mylute Myute did run 9 races, won 2. So, he has some experience but Rosie and Amoss had stated that the colt is immature and a slow learner. I’m not exactly sure what that means, does he not run when asked? Loses interest? I still don’t see why he was so far back in both races, unless he wouldn’t run. I also didn’t see Rosie ask him until it was too late. Ha! I’ve turned into a couch coach! The horse has talent and I wonder if you’re onto something with Rosie though she has had a pretty successful career.

    • Thank you for find that. I see, though, that she only rode him in one of those previous races. Immature sometimes stands for physically being behind, but when they pair it with ‘slow learner’, it sounds to me like they mean he’s a ‘goof’ or ‘not very business-like’ or ‘his mind wanders – has a short attention span’ as you’d expect with a ‘youngster’.

      Yes, she’s been very successful and I haven’t followed her so I don’t know what style of riding she tends to execute. If she normally prefers to be aggressive and up front, or if she’s content to stalk, or if she’s a tactical/strategic/thinking rider, and if she’ll push a horse beyond what they should be for that extra placing, or if she errs on the side of caution to protect the horse for future races.

      • Having two 3-yr olds in the barn has reminded me how much ‘fun’ they are. It’s constant ADD, oral fixation and goofiness. I can’t imagine many 3 yr olds being terribly mature, though TB’s are started so young they have to grow up quickly and go to work.

  6. They don’t even get a chance to grow up Blondemare. They begin training at 19 months and are racing either as long yearlings or early two year olds. That’s not even enough time to be a baby, let alone be considered ‘grown up’, They are literally racing babies to death.

    • They expect them to be ‘grown up’ mentally which I can’t imagine for even 3 yr olds. Physically, they have 2-3 years of growing which usually takes place after their careers are over. It’s the same story with stock horses except they’re forced to go too slow, too young, too long and are wiped out by age 5. Thing is, if conformation and longevity was more important to breeders than speed or movement, there would be fewer broken babies.

    • I sat on my baby at 2 1/2. Literally. I sat and she stood and tried to graze. I look back at those pictures and how much of a baby she still was and it breaks my heart for the horses that don’t get a chance to grow up on their own. Then I look at my broken down old mare who was running poles at AQHA at two and I stop being sad and start being mad. She had acute arthritis in her hocks at 18 because some jackass in Georgia thought he’d train her up real good and sell her ASAP.

      And people think I’m crazy for taking it slow with my 6-year-old.

  7. Yes, I wish for a world where all and any breeds, doing whatever discipline, get to mature before being put to serious work. But then people would have to stop being so greedy….:-P

  8. While I have no specific evidence to add, I wonder how much race fixing and general background shenanigans went on regaring to promoting/preventing a triple crown winner? I watched a documentary once (hence I’m clearly an authority on the subject) and it had an interview with an aging jockey in it lamenting the days before well filmed races, where they could get away with all sorts of things. An example he gave that stuck in my mind was grabbing hold of another horse’s saddle pad to intefere with it’s running. That was not the only example he gave but it’s the one I remembered. I have no idea how true that would be but I can believe his overall assertation that clear video recordings made a lot of underhanded business on the track impossible to get away with. This was an Australian documentary, but the situation is likely the same in the States.

    Things were filmed in the 70’s, but as youtube shows us, it’s not the clearest film in the world compared to today.

    • Well, what’s interesting is that the entire world (or anyone who watched the prerace television) knew that Orb didn’t like to race on the rail. Which means every trainer and jockey in that race also knew. And what happened…the horse got forced to stay on the rail and was pretty much surrounded the entire race. He’d have had to be pulled up quite hard to the back of the pack to get out of there very early on in the race and he still wouldn’t have been able to win because the opening fractions were so slow.

      That can be viewed two ways, imo….good strategy by everyone else or as a form of cheating. If you feel it’s the latter of the two, then it was done in plain sight, with the world’s knowledge and is on video for posterity.

      • That known, why did Orb’s jockey let the 3 horse pass him on the inside and squeeze him out just before the turn for home? He didn’t react at all to the pass, no tap or waving of the reins that I could see. He only went to his stick when he was behind the pack. I see a lot of suspect actions in racing, mostly the smaller tracks and non-stakes races. Race expert I am not but I think I know horses, I see when hands are with or against the horse’s face and when enouragement begins. People cheat at everything for a dollar to millions so I see no reason why some of what I see isn’t blatant race fixing.

        • I don’t know why he allowed that to happen, other than perhaps he thought it was too early to begin his horse’s run? It seemed he had momentum and was eating up the ground, and then maybe panicked that he was too close to the front, too early and just let his horse float? He did commment after the race that his horse didn’t feel like he wanted to run. Covering his butt? Or truth? The horse still didn’t race ‘badly’ and when you consider the fractions and how Orb seems to need to run, it can’t come as a surprise that he didn’t get the job done.

  9. I don’t think there will be a TC winner until 2017. Why? It’s wierd but I get some premonitions about certain horses. I knew Affirmed was going to win the TC before the Derby. I even went to watch him win in KY. I knew before the race that Ruffian would break down and wanted to call and warn them but who would listen to a call from an unknown person. Why 2017? Because last year I happened to watch “It’s Tricky” in a race in the first part of the year. Something about her made me take notice. The “feeling” as I call it happened again. For the rest of her races, I would email
    Kieren, her trainer and tell him how she would place in the races berfore hand. I was right every time. Go figure.
    I told him about the “premontion” but I think he thought I was nuts, even tho I called the races and how she would place everytime. She was covered by “Meglio Doro” this year and the colt she will have will be wonderful.
    Please don’t think I’m nuts. This feeling only happens in a blue moon. It’s not an everyday thing.
    If they take care of this coming colt, stay off the steroids, give him time to mature, he will be amazing.
    I’m not a physic. Just someone who at times gets these feelings that come true.
    I hope to be able to go to the Derby in 2017 and watch him win.

    • I have started reading our book club book, and will not comment on it yet, but I don’t think you are crazy. I know enough about quantum physics to know that you may be right. However, quantum physics also says that your premonition may be wrong when the races are run. But for now, I accept that the 2017 winner will be your colt.

  10. Wow lots to read. I don’t follow the TB industry – in particular the breeding lines – but my overall question for those who do is:

    Are different lines of TB’s bred (amd traomed?) more for specific qualities such as power vs endurance when it comes to speed? Meaning is there a bigger variety of ‘types’ on the field now than decades ago? If so, could that account for the lack of triple-crown winners?

    • There are certainly lines that are considered ‘sprinters’ vs ‘distance’ runners. A Triple Crown winner is more likely to come from predominantly ‘distance’ breeding. Sprinters just can’t make the Belmont distance.

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