The 12-most recent horses who have had a shot at the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes have fallen short. This has ignited cries that the tight five-week schedule needs to be changed to accommodate the way horses are trained in the 21st century. However, a review of history and statistics argues against the theory that the current time frame has anything to do with the 36-year drought since Affirmed beat Alydar (both ran in all three races) to capture the elusive prize.


MIAMI, May 28, 2014--California Chrome will be racing to make history in the Belmont Stakes. He also might be racing to affect the course of future racing history.

A sweep would silence those who say three demanding races within five weeks makes a Triple Crown unattainable to the modern thoroughbred. A feat can’t be labeled impossible when it has been done.

Should California Chrome fail, cries to scrap contemporary history and lengthen the time frame of the Triple Crown will become deafening, even though there is scant evidence the proximity of the races is responsible for the 36-year drought.

The Triple Crown has been won 11 times. The three most recent were achieved within the same five-week time frame. Since Affirmed in 1978, 12 horses have had the opportunity California Chrome has on June 7. Their failures can be traced to myriad reasons.

I’ll Have Another didn’t get his chance two years ago, suffering an injury on Belmont Eve. No one has figured out what happened to Big Brown in 2008.

Smarty Jones appeared to have the Triple Crown won in 2004, opening a four-length lead in the stretch only to have Birdstone nail him in the final few yards.

Funny Cide had the lead at the top of the stretch in 2003 before fading to third behind Empire Maker, who was arguably the superior horse, especially at 12 furlongs. War Emblem lost all chance in 2002 when he stumbled badly at the start.

The Triple Crown appeared conquered in three consecutive years, 1997-99. Silver Charm had a daylight lead in the stretch only to be run down in the final yards by Touch Gold. No horse will ever come closer to a Triple Crown without winning than Real Quiet. He got nosed out in a bob of heads the race caller labeled “too close to call.” Charismatic led into the stretch but faded to third, possibly the result of a debilitating injury.

Sunday Silence in 1989 fell victim to “New York’s Easy Goer,” a colt who was virtually unbeatable at a NYRA track.

Alysheba’s defeat in 1987 was blamed on him having to race without Lasix, then prohibited at New York tracks.

You have to go back to Pleasant Colony in 1981 to find an instance where Triple Crown fatigue was mentioned as the reason for a loss in the Belmont. Johnny Campo said his horse was tired but a shot at a Triple Crown was irresistible.

Spectacular Bid’s defeat in 1979 was attributed to a safety pin and/or Ronald Franklin’s amateurish ride.

With the exception of Pleasant Colony, what is the explanation for the Triple Crown candidates outrunning all but one or two horses in most cases, many of them fresh challengers. Even Pleasant Colony got home third.

During this same period, Risen Star, Hansel, Point Given and Afleet Alex won the Preakness and Belmont after coming up short in the Derby—running the same trio of demanding races within five weeks--with their second and third races stronger than the first.

California Chrome will be the 34th horse to vie for a Triple Crown after winning the first two legs. The 11 who turned the trick translates to 33%. Over decades, this is the same percentage of winning favorites in all races. To put it another way, about 67% of all favorites lose, so why does the same percentage by Triple Crown candidates ignite cries for drastic change?

Only three horses from this year’s Derby accepted the challenge to come back with “short rest” in the Preakness. They ran 1-2-4. Last year, Derby horses running back in two weeks finished 1-2-3-4. In 2012, it was 1-2-3. I could go on, but I think the point is made.

The horses are able, but most trainers are unwilling. It’s the uber-conservative management of horses now in vogue that is driving the movement to extend the time between the 3-year-old classics. It’s hard to find a modern trainer who would run stakes horses back within the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness or even the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont. However, 15 horses in 35 years—a tad short of half—have run the entire Triple Crown gauntlet and won two of three.

If there’s a logical culprit for the 36-year gap, it’s the mile and a half distance. Had the Belmont been 100 yards shorter, Real Quiet and Smarty Jones, at least, would have swept the series. Silver Charm might have.

There are those--D. Wayne Lukas being the most prominent-- who have argued for shortening the distances of two of the three races—a nine-furlong Derby, a Preakness at its traditional 9 ½ furlongs and a mile-and-a-quarter Belmont. This would be like making tests easier so more students could get A’s. Future Triple Crowns would be deemed inferior in historical context.

California Chrome’s connections are reporting that the son of Lucky Pulpit—not exactly 12 furlong breeding, but it wasn’t 10-furlong breeding, either—are reporting he is training like “a monster” and appears stronger than he did going into the Derby or Preakness. This is little more than a week after his second grueling race within 14 days.

So if he gets beat, it won’t be because of Triple Crown fatigue, according to the people who know him best. But this won’t deter horsemen and the media from offering that as the reason.

I’m hoping California Chrome denies them the opportunity and shuts them up for at least a few years.

Belmont tickets skyrocketing

Some thought it was a flight of whimsy when I suggested the best way to make money on California Chrome in the Preakness was not to take the 1-2 odds but to invest in reserved seats for the Belmont. I wasn’t kidding.

Lo and behold, Forbes reports that since the Preakness, prices for Belmont Stakes tickets have skyrocketed. Two weeks out, the average price for a Belmont ticket on the secondary market was $407.94, according to Forbes. This is 48% higher than the price before the Preakness.

Granted, 48% is slightly less than the 50% return at the Preakness betting windows but the price of tickets is likely to get higher as the race approaches and excitement builds.
My far-out suggestion was just another form of astute money management.