The Triple Crown Goes Back on the Shelf and A Rivalry

Bloged in Preakness Stakes by admin Saturday May 26, 2007

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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
his leads.

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
Stakes.

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.

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Preakness Prognostications

Bloged in Preakness Stakes by admin Saturday May 19, 2007

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War Admiral was not the only casualty of the 1938 Pimlico
Special, which became the famous match race immortalized
in the movie ‘Seabiscuit.’ The Pimilico infield’s slight
promontory, known as Old Hilltop, on which hundreds of
thousands trainers and racing fans had stood through 67
years of racing was leveled in April of 1938, so that it
would not obstruct the film cameras which recorded that
great race.

 The Old Hilltop might be gone, but its name remains, as do
the horses, trainers, fans, and cameras. They’ll all be at
Pimlico for the Preakness and a chance to witness Street
Sense duplicating what War Admiral did seventy years ago
in following his Kentucky Derby win with a Preakness Day
victory on his way to the 1937 Triple Crown.

 Of interest is that War Admiral had to beat nineteen other
horse win the Kentucky Derby, as did Street Sense, and had
to beat seven other horses to win the Preakness, while
Street Sense will have to beat eight. In one sense, the
Preakness is a much fairer test of ablility than the
Kentucky Derby, because for all its history, it’s never
been the glamour event that the ‘Run for the Roses’ is, and
does not attract horses simply because their owners like
the idea of photo opps.

 The horse voted by The Bloodhorse as the greatest of the
20th century, in fact, Man o’ War, did not even contest
the Kentucky Derby, because his owner Samuel P. Riddle
didn’t t feel it was in the colt’s best interests to run a
mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May. Man o’
War went on to win the Preakness and Belmont, sire War
Admiral, and also sire Hard Tack, who in turn sired
Seabiscuit. In the 1937 Preakness, in fact, three of the
eight horses entered were sons of Man o’ War.

  Does any of this history tell us a thing about which horse
is likely to his owner’s colors painted on the Pimlico
weather vane as late Saturday afternoon? Not really.
Street Sense loves the Churchill Downs track and no one
knows if he will like Pimlico. He also loves the rail;
there are likely to be seven riders seeing that he does
not get it. He will be starting from the outside post, so
they may not have to work too hard to see that he stays
outside.

 On the other hand, Hard Spun, who set all the fractions
except the most important one in the Kentucky derby, is
likely to have company on the lead from King of the Roxy,
who did not race at Churchill Downs but has a sprinter’s
pedigree and could not hold off Tiago in the stretch of
the Santa Anita Derby.

 D. Wayne Lukas, who has trained five Preakness winners,
four more than the other seven trainers combined, has
Flying First Class in after he won the Derby Trial Stakes
three weeks ago. But Curlin, who finished third in the
Derby, had earlier trounced Flying First Class both in the
Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

 And Curlin, who had a less than lucky trip in the Kentucky
Derby, was one of the few horses accelerating at the end.
He is still the greenest horse in the Preakness field, but
will not have nearly the traffic to contend with and in
the first three races of his life, which all had fields of
ten or less, simply annihilated his competition.

 I did some pedigree checking, and Street Sense traces back
to Man o’ War through his dam Bedazzle, while Curlin
traces back to War Admiral and Man o’ War through his dam
Sheriff’s Deputy.

 For no other reasons than that Curlin has a physique
resembling Man o’ War’s, and I think he learned a few
things in the Derby, I am picking him for the Preakness.
I would be very happy, however, to see Street Sense win,
and as always, just hope the contestants make it safely
around the track and back to their barns.

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