Changing Timing of Triple Crown Makes No Sense

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D.S. Williamson

May 15th, 2015

This week we've been inundated with discussions regarding the Triple Crown. Some believe, like Randy Moss in this article in the Wall Street Journal, that there should be more time between races. Moss and others believe that by having more time between races, it will ensure that the best horses run in all 3 Triple Crown events. Others feel, like the writer of this article on Horse Racing Nation, that a trainer like Todd Pletcher has so much power that he will end up forcing a change in the Triple Crown.

Let's first address the Pletcher argument. It makes little sense. Pletcher, and he might be the best trainer in the world, has won only a single Kentucky Derby with Super Saver in 2008. For all of the Triple Crown's "majesty" (or lack thereof in the past 34 years), the Kentucky Derby is the single most prestigious horse race on the planet. This is why top three-year-olds flow to Bob Baffert's barn year in and year out. More importantly, three-year-olds mature differently. If the argument is that Todd Pletcher always saves his horses for the Belmont Stakes, that argument doesn't hold any water, either.

Pletcher has won only 2 Belmont Stakes since 2000. His first Belmont victory was with Rags to Riches, a filly, in 2007. His second Belmont Stakes win was with Palace Malice in 2013. In the 2013 Kentucky Derby, Palace Malice ran the first quarter in 22.57. He ran the half mile in 45.33. Pletcher wasn't going to run him two weeks later against ponies after he blistered fractions like that in a 1 1/4 mile race. Pletcher has no more power than any other trainer to change the Triple Crown.

Moss's argument makes more sense. Could they, meaning horses, be built differently now than they were in the past?  Maybe. But, horses fail in the Triple Crown in most cases due to possible jockey errors and just bad luck. Horses that are suited for all three legs find themselves in a position to win it. Charismatic might have won it in 1999 if Chris Antley hadn't made a premature move. Yes, it turned out that the horse hurt himself during the running of the race but when did he hurt himself? It looked like Stewart Elliot made a premature move aboard Smarty Jones in 2004. California Chrome may have benefited if Victor Espinoza had gotten him into the race much earlier than he did in the 2014 Test of Champions. Speactacular Bid stepped onto a needle before his Belmont try and a loose shoe ruined Big Brown's chances. Bob Baffert makes the most sense. Quoting the Wall Street Journal article again, Baffert said that the Triple Crown, "Is a class test. If the horses are that good, they will get it done."

Here's another thing that horse racing fans don't seem to get. 37 years between Triple Crown winners may seem like a long time, but in the realm of sports, it really isn't. It was 45 years between Triple Crown Winners in Baseball. In 1967 the great Carl Yastrzemski led Major League Baseball in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. No other baseball player completed the feat until 2012 when Detroit's Miguel Cabrera did it with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs.

So, let's put to bed this discussion of changing the Triple Crown in Horse Racing for at least another 11 years.