Yesterday, I predicted that the Belmont Stakes would produce something almost as rare as a Triple Crown winner — even though the possibility of a Triple Crown winner ended in Baltimore three weeks earlier.
I said Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom would become the 12th horse since 1919 to win the first and third jewels of the Triple Crown. That didn't happen, though. Instead, Ruler On Ice won the race — and, for the third straight year (and fifth of the last six), three different horses won the three jewels of the Triple Crown.
Having three different winners has been the most common outcome of the Triple Crown races. Nothing very special about it — except, perhaps, how it came to be.
There was a bit of a collision at the start of the race, and Animal Kingdom almost lost his jockey. He made a valiant attempt to come from behind the way he did in the Kentucky Derby (and almost did in the Preakness), but even the more expansive Belmont Park wasn't long enough for him to make up the lost ground.
Mark Breech of Sports Illustrated was reminded of War Emblem, winner of the first two jewels of the Triple Crown in 2002.
War Emblem stumbled out of the gate in the Belmont, and his bid for a Triple Crown was over.
Preakness winner Shackleford fared quite a bit better, contending until the home stretch, but it was widely believed before the race that he couldn't handle the Belmont's distance — and, as it turned out, he couldn't.
Fans of horse racing may be sad to see this Triple Crown series come to an end while the historic drought (33 years and counting) goes on.
But, as Breech observed, "For all the complaints, this was actually a fun Triple Crown campaign." And I agree.
I sometimes wonder if I will ever see another Triple Crown winner in my lifetime. It would be great to see it happen one more time.
But, if it does, I wonder if it could match the drama — or the accessibility — of this year's Triple Crown races. There has been much talk of the mediocrity of this year's crop of 3–year–olds, but perhaps competitiveness was mistaken for mediocrity.
Breech may have summed it up best:
"Thoroughbred racing may be the Sport of Kings, but in 2011 at least, just this once, it was a game for everybody. Bravo."