Winning the Kentucky Derby in May, the Preakness in June and the Belmont in July does not a Triple Crown winner make.
A month between races waters down the Triple Crown, but that is the suggestion of Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas. Running the three races in five weeks is the reason that the Triple Crown has such a high degree of difficulty that only 11 horses have accomplished the feat in more than 100 years, none since Affirmed in 1978.
A race-goer since I was 16 — once the legal age at Oaklawn Park — I’m for most anything that will generate enthusiasm for thoroughbred racing and halt the downward spiral at most racetracks, but changing the rules to make the Triple Crown more doable is not the answer. Besides, the idea the general public will flock to the racetrack if there is a Triple Crown winner is ludicrous.
Chuckas recently told BloodHorse.com that two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness and three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont is passé. After the Belmont on June 7, he plans to talk with Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association about revamping the schedule.
“I’m all about tradition,” he said. “… but when I sit here today, it doesn’t work anymore.”
His remarks coincided with the fact the second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-place finishers in the Derby passed the Preakness. Several of those runners will return for the Belmont.
Chuckas contends that public attention on the Triple Crown is crammed into a few weeks and that there would be more interest if the races were spread out. To me, the opposite is true. The general public pays some attention to the Derby, checks the Preakness to see if the Derby winner repeated and then needs a reminder about the date of the Belmont .
With a month between the Derby and the Preakness and another month between the Preakness and the Belmont, most couldn’t name the Derby winner.
The Preakness announced a record crowd of 123,469 and I would bet not one person new to the sport showed up when racing resumed the following Friday. Apparently, one of the biggest attractions on Preakness day was the opportunity to purchase an orange beer mug that came with unlimited refills.
All that said, other sports have altered the rules to punch up the product — the shot clock and 3-point line in basketball; legalized holding by offensive linemen and hands-off receivers to facilitate passing in football. I would be OK with adding a week between the Derby and the Preakness and retaining the Preakness-Belmont break. Used to be, the Arkansas Derby was two weeks before the Kentucky Derby; now, it’s three to accommodate horsemen.
Racing does OK on its biggest days, but such days are few and far between. The Belmont is one of 10 stakes on June 7. In addition to the Preakness, Pimlico offered more than a half-dozen stakes May 17. When racing resumed at Pilmlico, the program was loaded with races for claiming horses and maidens.
Oaklawn and other so-called “resort tracks” such as Saratoga, Del Mar, and Keeneland seem to be doing better than others. Common ground includes short seasons, good racing, fun and an emphasis on the social experience.
California Chrome is the 13th to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1978. Eleven lost in the Belmont and I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before the 2012 Belmont with an injury that made moot a decision to prevent the horse from wearing a nasal trip.
That issue came up regarding California Chrome, but the Belmont prohibition ended abruptly after the Preakness — a decision applauded so that there would not be a ready-made excuse if the colt loses in New York.
A Triple Crown winner would be historic and all that, but produce a blip at most as far as interest in thoroughbred racing.