Velazquez, Rosario each a Preakness win away from Career Triple Crown
The three Triple Crown races -- which have been around seemingly forever and attract the most eyeballs on TV and attention from the national media -- are generally considered Thoroughbred racing's equivalent to the golf and tennis majors. Winning all four (current) golf majors in a single calendar year seems a virtual impossibility, and in tennis is extremely rare. However, 11 jockeys -- Eddie Arcaro, Johnny Longden, Ron Turcotte, Jean Cruguet, Steve Cauthen, and Victor Espinoza among them -- have been fortunate enough to sweep the classics in a single season over the past century.
For those jockeys that haven't found (or never did find) that three-year-old of a lifetime, the "Career Triple Crown" sufficed. Riders on this list include Bill Shoemaker, Bill Hartack, Angel Cordero Jr., Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye, Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, Gary Stevens, Kent Desormeaux, and Jose Santos.
Read all those names again, and now think about all the greats not on either list. Amazing isn't is?
Mike Smith also has the Career Triple Crown to his credit, having clinched that honor back in 2010, and is the only jockey in Saturday's Preakness (G1) that has it. Looking to join him and others on the Career Triple Crown list are John Velazquez, who will be aboard the favored Always Dreaming, and Joel Rosario, who rides Multiplier.
A protégé of Cordero, Velazquez has won both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont twice. Rosario has a single win in those two races, both fairly recently (2013 Derby, 2014 Belmont).
Unfortunately for a quartet of Hall of Fame legends, the Preakness proved to be the ultimate roadblock to achieving the Career Triple Crown. Laffit Pincay Jr., at one time the world's winningest jockey, only had four shots at the Preakness during his long career. He came closest riding Sham to a second-place finish behind Secretariat in 1973, but perhaps was disappointed the most in Derby and Belmont winner Swale's seventh in 1984.
Fellow Panamanian Braulio Baeza, who frequently rode for the great, patrician stables of yesteryear in the 1960s and early 1970s, had one win in the Derby and three in the Belmont, but went 0-for-10 at Pimlico. That included rides aboard champions Chateaugay, Arts and Letters, Key to the Mint, and Honest Pleasure.
Edgar Prado, sadly, maybe shouldn't be on this list. The former king of the Maryland jockey colony, Prado ironically never once hit the board with 14 Preakness mounts. His best horse, of course, was Barbaro, the Derby winner and odds-on Preakness favorite who Prado had to pull up in the opening furlong of the 2006 renewal when the colt tragically broke down.
Finally there's Bill Boland, who finished second in the 1950 Preakness with Derby winner Middleground and third in the 1966 Preakness with Belmont hero Amberoid, but was unplaced aboard two other mounts in the Baltimore classic.
Completing a Triple Crown or Career Triple Crown sweep alone doesn't confer greatness in the saddle. Lots of famed riders had only one classic to their credit, while some, like Ramon Dominguez, Randy Romero, and Garret Gomez (the latter a posthumous Hall of Fame inductee this year) had none. It takes solid horsemanship, for sure, but also luck in the saddle and often being in the right place at the right time. Of course, the most important factor is having the right horse.
As noted earlier, Johnny V will be a strong favorite to take that successful next step toward a Triple Crown sweep on Saturday with Always Dreaming. While he might finally earn his personal Career Triple Crown Saturday night, joining an even more exclusive group of riders three weeks later would feel even sweeter.
(Adam Coglianese Photography)