My toes were ‘curlin’ with excitement while I was watching
the stretch run of the Preakness last Saturday and
wondering if and when my chosen steed would ever change
He finally did, and I suppose I can offer myself a pat on
the back for picking Curlin to win, and even more for
narrowing the competition down to him and Street Sense.
Believe me, that is not my usual standard of performance
when it comes to horse racing.
But I have been a fan of the Thoroughbreds long enough to
have heard of or witnessed some stellar rivalries, and it
appears that we are on the verge of another one, if both
Curlin and Street Sense can remain sound and their owners
are willing to continue challenging each other.
Because it is virtually guaranteed that neither of these
horses will race beyond this year, whatever legendary
contests are going to arise between them will have to
occur between now and the October 25 Breeders’ Cup Classic
at Santa Anita. At this writing, it looks as if neither
colt has connections interested in pursuing the Belmont
The Belmont Stakes, it seems, has become almost an
afterthought in those years when there is no horse with a
chance to win the Triple Crown. As a mile-and-a-half
race, it sticks out on the calendar of stakes races for
three-year-olds in the US like a sore thumb, and is the
only time three-year-olds are required to run that
distance. So more often than not, it is a prime spot for
stamina-loaded horses who simply cannot run fast enough to
win shorter stakes.
My personal opinion is that, if it were not for the
artificial standard of the Triple Crown, the distance of
the Belmont Stakes would have long ago been shortened.
But it needs something to make it unique, and at its
current distance can call itself ‘The Test of Champions.’
The only problem is that fewer and fewer champions are
choosing to show up.
There is simply too much money at stake for the owners of
top class three-year-old male Thoroughbreds to risk them
without very good reason. Asking Street Sense to take on
Curlin in the Belmont does not, from an economic
standpoint, make sense. Asking him to do it later in the
year at a shorter distance makes perfect sense; it will,
in fact, be required of both horses if there is to be a
year-end championship awarded to either.
So, heaven willing and these two colts stay sound, we can
look forward to the Travers Stakes, or the year-end
weight-for-age contests when they will not only face each
other but their elders. Perhaps the ghosts of Alydar and
Affirmed, or Ridan and Jaipur, or Easy Goer and Sunday
Silence will be racing at their sides.
Other than the chance of a Triple Crown winner, nothing in
US horse racing has as much appeal as two evenly matched
champions looking each other in the eye and refusing to
blink. Will it happen at Belmont Park on June 9?
Don’t hold your breath.