Tag Archives: Preakness Stakes

American Pharoah Says Neigh to the Naysayers

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37 years.

For 37 years, the Triple Crown was an illusion, a bedtime story horse racing fans told their children. There were the days of War Admiral in 1937, the days of the tremendous machine known as Secretariat, the days of the last legend known as Affirmed.

No sport has gone more than 750 days without crowning a champion. Horse racing went 13,514 days, more than 18 times that.

No other sport demands a team or athlete win three consecutive competitions in a six-week span while also facing every competitor. In every sport, you may face three or four competitors on a championship run, perhaps five or six if you’re in tennis. In horse racing, you can face up to 47 during the three races. (19 at the Derby, 13 at the Preakness, and 15 at Belmont.)

The Triple Crown is one of if not the most elusive honor in all of professional sports. Three races in six weeks against the very best in the sport.

It is the most grueling 3 15/16 miles in the history of sports and it went undefeated against the challengers that threatened it for 1,924 weeks.

To affirm something is to state it as a fact, to do so strongly and publicly. Affirmed was the last horse to affirm itself in horse racing. For almost four decades, no horse would show such purposeful stride for all of the Triple Crown’s 6,300 meters.

2014’s top horse was California Chrome and he would become the 13th Triple Crown bid to fall short in the Belmont since Affirmed’s win in 1978.

Again, horse racing fans would turn to the old tapes of past champions. Again, they would look back at the horses that held so much promise, that so many put their faith in and that so many watched lose on that dirt track in New York.

The older fans relived the glories of the greatest, Secretariat. They remembered the bitter taste of Silver Charm, who lost the lead in the last 50 yards, and the photo finish defeat of Real Quiet.

The next generation struggled with memories of Smarty Jones, who led with one furlong to go before falling to Birdstone. Big Brown’s dominance and dramatic loss at the Belmont continued to linger. I’ll Have Another’s scratch from the Belmont remained a dream of what could have been.

Following his horse’s loss in the Belmont, Califronia Chrome owner Steve Coburn questioned the legitimacy of the sport’s jewel, saying that horses who weren’t eligible for the Derby should not be allowed to run in the Preakness or Belmont.

Coburn did not understand or respect the tradition of the Triple Crown. If he did, he would know that the Triple Crown is the quest to be not just a winning horse, but a legend, a legend forever engraved in the history books, a name that would be forever traced to the greatest racing championship in the world. That honor is not something earned from being great or exceptional. It is a distinction awarded to absolute supremacy and complete dominance, a distinction awarded to a ruler, a king of a sport, an athlete that outpaces all others.

37 years later, we have that king. It is ironic that the last horse to affirm himself in the sport was named Affirmed. How fitting is it now, that the horse to break the unbreakable drought of horse racing has a name that is a synonym for king? His name is American Pharoah and he is the 12th winner of the Triple Crown.

Never was the booming thunder of “into the stretch” as pervasive as it was on June 6. Broadcaster Larry Collmus’ voice was calm and yet it hit harder than it ever had before.

The audience remained controlled, some seemingly afraid to believe and who could blame them? Santa Clause had given them more of a reason to believe than horse racing ever had.

Yet around the final turn, you could see jockey Victor Espinoza let him run. You could see him run, with passion and discipline, physically demanding, “Are you not entertained?” a la Gladiator.

The crowd roared.

This was no longer a horse race. This was an athlete ordering his crown.

For 19,460,160 minutes, horse racing fans waited for this.

 

It lasted 2:26.65.

For 1,167,609,600 seconds, aficionados waited for that partial second when a horse would pass that final bar in the dirt.

That partial second has a name.

History.

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The Future of Horse Racing

Big Brown, the winner of the Kentucky Derby an...

Horse racing is a dying sport, one that is no longer capable of attracting large fan bases like today’s major sports do. Despite this, I have been watching the Triple Crown races, those being the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes, for the last few years. Truth be told, the recent horse flick, Secretariat, got me hooked.  The movie was very well done, and I could feel the excitement and the adrenaline rush, watching the horses come back from behind down the final stretch, unleashing every ounce of energy left in them. That movie was so good, that I went home, got on YouTube, and started watching videos of the latest Derby, Preakness, and Belmont winners, like Mine That Bird and jockey Calvin Borel‘s huge upset in the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds in 2009 and Big Brown’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins in 2008. Watching those horses come back from behind the way they did brought me the same adrenaline rush that I had gotten while I had watched Secretariat. It was fun to watch. Then I noticed something about a horse named Eight Belles dying in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, the same one that Big Brown won, so I decided to click on the video and see what happened. After finishing second behind Big Brown, Eight Belles collapsed, breaking both front ankles. It was put down there on the track, never to race again or live another day. As a huge animal lover, while it was clearly the humane thing to do, it still made me very sad. After watching that video, I shut off the computer and went to do something else.

Well, yesterday, my parents decided to take me and my younger brother to the Meadows, a racetrack and casino about an hour from Pittsburgh. They took us when we were little but I don’t remember very much of the experience. Horses participate in harness racing, sometimes called sulky racing, in which a horse pulls the jockey and a cart he’s sitting on. This is obviously not as entertaining as watching regular horse racing, like the Kentucky Derby, etc., but as I soon learned, it can be still be entertaining. Based off the stat sheet from the horses’ previous races and whether or not we liked how they were moving pre-race, we selected a horse that we thought would show, meaning they would finish in first, second, or third. Each of us got one right, and other times we were better at picking the horse that would finish in the bottom three. Anyway, it was getting late and we had decided we were going to watch two more and then go. We were on race 7, and a horse named Rowdy Bush looked good on the stat sheet to me. He was at 12-1 odds, but had finished 4th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 7th in his last five races. He looked good coming on to the track, so I picked him. Through the first half, Rowdy Bush held the two spot, but around the final turn was overrun. One horse was quickly gaining on the leader, which caught everyone’s attention, including mine, creating a nail-biting finish that thrilled. Then I turned my focus back towards my horse, Rowdy Bush, and saw Rowdy Bush crash head first into the ground, the sulky carriage behind him overturning and the jockey being thrown into the air. Shortly thereafter, Rowdy Bush was put down on the track, which made me once again very sad and we all decided to leave for two reasons: 1) because we were sad and 2) because we thought they would have to cancel the rest of the races for the night. My parents headed for the bathroom before we left and while I was waiting I heard the pre-race horn, announcing the horses for the next race. I quickly ran outside and saw that all the cars and the ambulance that had been surrounding Rowdy Bush on the track were gone, and the horses for the next race were coming out!!! I was quickly taken over by a furious rage. A horse just died and the operators just acted like nothing happened! This was something similar to what the NFL had been in the past, an organization that took athletic machines and put them in a game with heavy consequences and once they were of no more use to the organization, tossed them aside. Horse racing is like that today. As many as three horses a day die in race accidents like the one I witnessed and I can only assume the majority of the race providers probably continue the races regardless of what happens to the participants.

Once again, as a huge animal lover, that infuriates me. When race providers start treating participants as machines, either things need to be changed, like the NFL has changed, or the sport needs to go. So despite my fondness for horse racing, if it comes down to a vote to continue it, I can’t say with full confidence that I would vote for it.

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