Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Triple Crown Will Never Be Won Ever Again

I've watched a lot of horse racing over the years.  A lot.  That's what happens when you grow up in a family of compulsive gamblers an hour drive from three different horse tracks (well, more than that, but I don't count the trotters - thoroughbreds only).

I'll save my reminiscences about track life (and there are many) for future posts.  The issue at hand is the impending flurry (horse racing doesn't merit a deluge any more) of media coverage touting the possibility of horse racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed turned the trick in 1978.

No need to read any of those articles; I will save you the trouble:

It's not gonna happen

The Triple Crown will never be won again in its current form.  And it's The Belmont's fault.

If you've at least casually followed horse racing in the past, you'll probably have noticed the following pattern:

  • Nobody has any clue who will win the Derby
  • The horses that run well in the Derby are always right up there at the Preakness.  Maybe the Derby winner pulls it out and sets up a possible Triple Crown
  • Someone else always wins The Belmont.  Always.  (well, at least since 1978)
Here's why:

  1. The Schedule:
    The Triple Crown is 3 races in a little over a month.  That is incredibly demanding on the horses, who at just three years old, often haven't run much more than a half dozen or so races in their lives.  Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another will be running his 8th race ever at the Belmont, meaning that nearly half of his races have been run since the first Saturday in May.  He's had to run the race of his life twice so far.  Does he really have a 3rd race in him?
  2. The Distance:
    Ever wonder why so-called experts have so much trouble picking the Kentucky Derby winner every year?  It's the distance.  As two-year olds, most horses rarely run much more than 1 mile.  Early in their three-year old season, they'll usually run at 1 1/16, or maybe 1 1/8 miles.  At 1 1/4 miles, The Derby is the longest race those horses have ever run - until The Belmont.  The Belmont is 1 1/2 miles long.  It is the first, and in most cases, the ONLY time in their lives that these horses will be asked to run that extra 1/4 mile.  And that makes a huge difference.  But maybe not as much of a difference as...
  3. The Professional Spoilers:
    Because of The Belmont's unique distance, the training, and strategy for that race has evolved to where it is now completely different from that for the other two Triple Crown Jewels.  As a result, there has also evolved a subset of horse owners and trainers who will take a two-year old with perceived long-distance qualities, and train it specifically for The Belmont.  These horses will not even be entered into The Derby or The Preakness - They are dedicated Belmont horses.  Does it work?  Hell yeah.  Since 1978, of the 34 Belmont winners, 22 of them have skipped at least one of the previous two Triple Crown races.  Dedicated training, plus lighter race schedule, equals Belmont advantage.
So why stack the deck?

Tradition.  That is the only reason to keep things as they are.  The schedule and distance are sacred cows, but the racing bodies should be able to do something about the Professional Spoilers.  Back in the old days, everybody used to run in all three races, but now, with stables picking their spots, the task of winning all three races has become sisyphean.  And a Triple Crown that is unwinnable is bad for the sport.

And horse racing so badly wants, and needs a Triple Crown winner.  Year by year, horse racing drops further out of the public eye, and the horse racing demographic gets older, and less numerous.  It needs a Triple Crown winner like Greece needs a bailout.  But it won't get one.  Not like this.

So who do I see winning The Belmont this year?

Well, let's start from the outside post and work our way in:

PP12: My Adonis
Skipped both The Derby and The Preakness (check)
Has not won a race this year
Had his worst finish in his longest race (1 1/8 miles)
Prognosis: No chance

PP11: I'll Have Another
Won both The Derby and The Preakness
Prognosis: No chance, but may have just enough in him to fool you as he hits the home stretch, makes a valiant, glorious push, and ultimately fails.

PP10: Optimizer
Finished 11th at The Derby.  6th at The Preakness
Has not won a race this year
Prognosis: No chance

PP9: Paynter
Skipped both The Derby and The Preakness (check)
In 4 races this year, has 2 wins and 1 place (that means "came in 2nd")
Longest win this year: 1 1/16 miles
Prognosis: Intriguing, but Paynter likes to run from the front, and The Belmont is not kind to front-runners.  At 8-1, there's some value to be had there, but I have my doubts

PP8: Guyana Star Dweej
Skipped both The Derby and The Preakness (check)
In 3 races this year has 1 win and 2 places
Has not run more than 1 mile - EVER
Prognosis: Hard to read given he has no experience at over a mile, but he has the right running style, has a great pedigree (that actually does matter) and has been hanging out at the Belmont track since April (he ran his most recent race there).  At 50-1, he is absolutely worth a flier - plus, he has the best name in the field.

PP7: Five Sixteen
Skipped both The Derby and The Preakness (check)
In 3 races this year has 1 win and 1 show (that means "came in 3rd")
Longest win this year: 1 1/8 miles
Prognosis: Likes to run with the leaders, which is a Belmont no-no.  50-1 longshot for a proper reason.  No chance.

PP6: Ravelo's Boy
Skipped both The Derby and The Preakness (check)
Has not won a race this year
Has not run more than 1 1/16 miles
Prognosis: No chance

PP5: Dullahan
3rd in The Derby.  Skipped The Preakness (check)
In 3 races this year has 1 win, 1 place, 1show
Longest win this year: 1 1/8 miles
Prognosis: A solid contender.  Proved at The Derby he can run with the big boys (was closing at the end and very nearly took 2nd), and is better rested than I'll Have Another.  Public has bet him down to 5-1, and he's still good value at those odds.

PP4: Atigun
Skipped both The Derby and The Preakness (check)
In 3 races this year has 1 win (1 1/16 miles)
Prognosis: His 1 win was in a race against marginal competition. Has not looked great against better horses.  30-1 and should probably be longer.  No chance

PP3: Union Rags
7th at The Derby.  Skipped The Preakness (check)
In 3 races this year has 1 win and 1 show
Longest win this year: 1 1/16 miles
Prognosis: Ran well down the stretch at The Derby coming from 13th up to 7th.  The public likes him at 6-1, but in his one win, he was up near the front the whole race, and I don't know if he is up for negotiating traffic at this inside post.

PP2: Unstoppable U
Skipped both The Derby and The Preakness (check)
In 2 races this year, has 2 wins
Longest win this year: 1 Mile
Prognosis: His other win was 6 Furlongs (3/4 miles), and he won both races going wire-to-wire. That's not how you run The Belmont.  No chance.

PP1: Street Life
Skipped both The Derby and The Preakness (check)
In 3 races this year, has 1 win, 1 show
Longest win this year: 1 1/16 miles
Prognosis: Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2012 Belmont winner!  Perfect running style for The Belmont.  Likes to sit in dead last and then make a move late.  In the two races he didn't win, he started his move too late and ran out of track.  His last race was at Belmont and he looked great (for video of that race click here), coming from way off the pace to finish 3rd and still closing at the final pole.  He'll have plenty to work with here as long as he doesn't fall too far behind in the early going.  Sitting at 12-1 he is awesome value. 

So, your next question is probably "How do I bet this?"

Glad you asked.

I obviously love Street Life, and think that Dullahan looks solid too.  I'll Have Another is totally set up for a heartbreaking 2nd place finish, so you need to have him on your ticket for that.  Leaving you with:

$2 Exacta Box: Street Life + Dullahan + I'll Have Another
That will set you back $12

For your longshot, put $2 on Win, Place and Show for Guyana Star Dweej
That will set you back $6

Enjoy the race!


  1. I will follow your advice, but as I'll be watching the race at Hastings Park, I will not publicly celebrate Street Life's victory in front of Mario's home fans. I like Payntar too, so I'll have to have to box him up with Street Life & I'll Have Another.

    1. Paynter could be interesting, and at 8-1, he's not a bad bet...

  2. Now that I'll Have Another is out, I'm thinking of puting Paynter in that exacta box. Thoughts?

  3. Either Paynter or Union Rags would go in well there. I think Union Rags could get into the mix if he can get a clean start and stay out of traffic. With Paynter, the only question is one of his endurance.