Saturday’s running of the Belmont Stakes won’t feature a Triple Crown hanging in the balance. Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike skipped the Preakness, which was won by Early Voting.
That didn’t go over well with many horse racing fans. Some called for future editions of the Triple Crown to be modified pertaining to either the distances of those races or their scheduling on the racing calendar.
Let’s evaluate those reasons given for why this historic trio of races should change. And debunk them. Because the Triple Crown should not change.
Reason #1: “The Belmont Stakes is too long”
At 1½ miles, the Belmont Stakes has a well-earned moniker: The Test of the Champion. Horses have never run this far before, and almost all of them will never run this far again.
The Belmont isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be hard. Fantastic horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and fallen short here. That list includes Hall of Famers like Sunday Silence and champions like California Chrome.
Belmont Park is the largest oval in North America. The Belmont Stakes has horses starting and finishing at the wire. Shortening the Belmont to 1¼ miles would mean an awkward start on the turn. Cutting it to 11⁄8 miles would make it a one-turn race out of the chute. Neither of those situations seem worthy of the current race’s moniker.
Reason #2: “Horses aren’t bred to handle the Triple Crown series”
The next two reasons aren’t problems with the race, but with the ways in which horses are bred and campaigned. Top-tier thoroughbreds run fewer times per season than ever before, and that’s not an accident.
Due to years of breeding for speed and precocity, horses are more brittle. They need more time to recover from races, and running three times in five weeks is just too much to ask of some of these animals.
The counter is a simple one: Why not focus on changing the breed, rather than accommodate weaker animals and reward shortsighted behavior by changing these great races?
If the horses you’re breeding and buying aren’t sturdy enough to compete in this series, and this series is important to you, breed and buy better ones. Choosing to make the sequence easier would be akin to lowering basketball rims so people who can’t jump can suddenly dunk.
Reason #3: “In the current structure, some races lack field sizes and overall quality”
This weekend’s card at Belmont Park should put this one to rest. Yes, the Belmont Stakes is missing Early Voting, Derby and Preakness runner-up Epicenter, and a few other heavy hitters. However, it drew an eight-horse field and should be a decent horse betting race.
By comparison, other major races struggled mightily at the entry box. Saturday’s card includes the Acorn, the Just A Game and the Met Mile, all Grade 1 races. Each race attracted just five runners. Furthermore, the Woody Stephens, also a Grade 1, drew only six.
Where are the calls to change those races, and others like them? This isn’t a Triple Crown issue. It’s a racing issue.
Reason #4: “Other sports have changed things. Why can’t we change this?”
On the surface, this one may seem to have merit, but it falls apart under scrutiny. Basketball changed the three-point line, but only after teams began heaving long-range shots on more and more possessions. Baseball is banning shifts, but only after teams began turning to them multiple times each inning.
Those changes came after participants showed strength. Horse racing changing the Triple Crown would be because horses have gotten too weak to compete in the current system. That’s a massive difference.
Again, the solution is simple: Want to win these races? Breed and buy sound, sturdy horses that can do it, not the ones that blaze furlongs at 2-year-old sales and are seemingly held together by duct tape and paper mache.
Reason #5: “It’s too hard”
American Pharoah and Justify neigh and stamp their feet in your general direction. American Pharoah broke a 37-year drought when he swept the series in 2015. Justify did it just three years later (and just four years ago).
Triple Crown winners
|Horse (Year)||Horse (Year)||Horse (Year)|
|Sir Barton (1919)||Whirlaway (1941)||Secretariat (1973)|
|Gallant Fox (1930)||Count Fleet (1943)||Seattle Slew (1977)*|
|Omaha (1935)||Assault (1946)||Affirmed (1978)*|
|War Admiral (1937)||Citation (1948)||American Pharoah (2015)*|
Many others have come close since the turn of the millennium. War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and California Chrome went postward with a chance to win the Triple Crown. I’ll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont before he could try. Furthermore, Point Given, who lost the 2001 Kentucky Derby to Monarchos, won the Preakness and the Belmont.
In total, the last 21 years have seen nine horses win at least two Triple Crown races. Seven times, the Derby and Preakness winner has continued on to Belmont for a chance at horse racing immortality. That’s a pretty strong clip, one that hints at a simple conclusion.
The Triple Crown is not broken. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.