Thursday, May 17, 2012

Will the Cycle Be Broken?

Affirmed was the last horse to win thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown in 1978.

Thirty–three Triple Crown opportunities have come and gone since then, but no horse has won all three races. It's the longest drought since Sir Barton won the first Triple Crown in 1919, and many people think it is the kind of thing that cannot be done again.

Most decades have had no Triple Crown winners at all. Three — the 1930s, 1940s and 1970s — produced multiple winners, and their names read like the roster of a horse racing's Who's Who or the Top 10 of Blood–Horse magazine's 100 greatest thoroughbreds of the 20th century.

Anyway, history — not to mention common sense — suggests that, if no horse wins a Triple Crown by the middle of a decade, that decade isn't likely to have a Triple Crown winner.

This decade is still relatively young. We can go a couple more years without a Triple Crown winner before — historically speaking — it will be seen as too late.

But we've already waited more than 30 years. Horse racing fans are understandably anxious.

Admittedly, it's a little premature to be asking this question, but what are the chances we'll be anticipating a Triple Crown winner in three weeks when the horses are about to run in the Belmont, the third and last jewel?

For that to happen, I'll Have Another must win in Baltimore.

David Ginsburg of the Associated Press seems to think the chances are pretty good that Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another will prevail — even though he is the Morning Line's second choice behind Bodemeister, the horse he overcame to win the Run for the Roses.

Chris Korman of the Baltimore Sun writes that I'll Have Another has been running well in his pre–Preakness training sessions.

Bodemeister does have his supporters, though, like Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post.

Beyer writes that "[w]hen serious bettors evaluate what has happened in a race, they don't necessarily focus on who won and who lost. They understand that outcomes are determined not only by horses' talent but by race dynamics — pace, traffic trouble, ground loss, all the things that constitute a horse's 'trip.' They try to consider all of these factors in order to judge after the fact who ran best because that conclusion may be the key to betting a future race."

Bodemeister had the "toughest trip" of any of the horses in the Kentucky Derby, Beyer writes, because he was forced to run a faster pace from the start than he would have preferred. Yet he still almost won at Churchill Downs.

"Run the Kentucky Derby 100 times in an alternate universe and he'll capture a plurality of them."

At Pimlico on Saturday, Beyer writes, "there is only one reason to question Bodemeister, and it has nothing to do with his talent. The colt has crammed his whole five–race career into the span of four months, and the exertions may have taken a toll on him."

Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form writes that winning the Derby exposed the many layers of Doug O'Neill, the trainer of I'll Have Another.

"His has been a complicated, multi–dimensional career, alternately praised for winning major races and multiple titles, yet questioned by racing authorities for violations O'Neill disputes," Privman writes.

I suspect the controversies will only intensify if O'Neill's horse wins on Saturday.

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