The Triple Crown Requires Greatness

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D.S. Williamson

May 8th, 2015

It's fitting that on the same day that the most hyped horse since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 marched to a Kentucky Derby victory was the same day that the most hyped boxing match since Mike Tyson versus Evander Holyfield ended up as one of the biggest disappointments in sports' history.

This isn't to say that Floyd Mayweather isn't a great boxer. He is a great boxer. But, he's not one of the greatest boxers. The difference really has to do with the fact that in boxing you make the choice. You can fight a Tyson or Holyfield, or you can fight a man that you tower over who has a bum shoulder and who you should have fought 6 years ago. Can you make a lot of money?  Sure, you can. But, can you convince people that you are one of the greats?  Absolutely not.

Horses can't decide who they have to out run on the race track. They also can't decide when to push the button, the jockey does that, or when they're fit enough to run, that's the trainer's job. In boxing, Mayweather, or any other boxer, can time when they're at their peak, when their competition has lost a step or two and when their fabricated greatness can fully come to light. Some, like Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard, fought their way to greatness by battling each other. They actually fought.  Others, like Mayweather, pretty their way to greatness, like adding sprinkles to ice cream, and then decide to hate the world when the world, or their opponents, don't recognize their greatness.

If you think this is a knock against Floyd, it is. But, it's also about how the Triple Crown defines greatness by the fact of what it is. There are other things in sports that define greatness by its mere existence. The Triple Crown in Baseball is one. Winning all 4 major golf tournaments is another as is winning the NASCAR Championship.

What do all of these things have in common?  You garner greatness no matter what other decisions are made or what other factors are involved. Smarty Jones may have become one of the greatest if Stewart Elliot hadn't pushed the button just a bit too soon in the Belmont. Big Brown may have become one of the greatest if he hadn't had a lose shoe in the Test of Champions. Alydar may have been one of the greatest if he could have ever learned to switch leads and pass rival Affirmed. Instead, it is Affirmed who is one of the greatest. Real Quiet was a nose away from being one of the greatest of all time. A nose.

That's the Triple Crown. If American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza are able to win the Preakness Stakes next Saturday and then the Belmont Stakes after that, he will be one of the greatest horses of all time. The son of Pioneer of the Nile can't turn down rematches against Dortmund and Firing Line. He can't prevent new shooters like Competitive Edge to battle him on the racetrack. American Pharoah has to face all comers and he has to do it under the conditions of the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont, at 1 3/16 miles and at 1 1/2 miles.

The Triple Crown requires greatness. In horse racing, there is no such thing as manufacturing it.