No man’s land.
Neither here nor there.
Whatever you want to call it, such is the time between the end of the Triple Crown and Saratoga. What’s to sustain the narrative of the 2011 season of racing? It’s not too hard to find horses that can carry the story—as it would appear—we’ve just been so incredibly spoiled the past four years. Think about it. It’s the equivalent of the first four Rocky movies.
Street Sense becomes the first juvenile winner to complete the double by winning the Kentucky Derby below Calvin Borel. Borel won his first of three Derbys in four years. The Preakness saw one of the great stretch duels you will ever see between Curlin and Street Sense, with Curlin winning by a sneeze in the silks Midnight Cry Stables (Oh, fen fen). Three weeks later Curlin gets beat by a similar margin by a filly—Rags to Riches. Better Than Honour becomes the bees knees as the dam to two Belmont winners in a row (Jazil in 2006).
A little-known mare named Zenyatta wins first time out. How long can she keep that up?
2008: The emergence of Curlin as super star.
Jess Jackson announces to the world that Curlin will remain in training. He goes to Dubai and has the most smashing victory of his career (it would mark the beginning of the end of his form). Curlin placed second to Red Rocks in the Man o’War, became North America’s all-time money leader, the finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Jackson’s “plastic” to who—Raven’s Pass. Exactly.
Let’s not forget Big Brown, Rick Dutrow, Jr., Michael Iavarone, steroids, the Rivalry that never was, quarter cracks, turf racing, etc.
Casino Drive pulls out of Belmont with injury, disappointing his mother—Better Than Honour.
2009: The emergence of Rachel Alexandra (and the continued excellence of Zenyatta)
Jess Jackson, for a third-straight year, is at racing’s epicenter with the filly who went 8-for-8, beat the boys three times and became his second Horse of the Year (but third in a row).
Rachel Alexandra’s Woodward win forced the hand of Team Zenyatta to slay the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Zen wins and the frenzy begins.
2010: The emergence of yet another rivalry that never was.
Rachel wins Horse of the Year, Jerry Moss looked more miffed than Dr. Evil, and the Apple Blossom debate began.
Rachel never returns to form, Zenyatta was stunning, and lost her only race when Michael Smith gagged worse than Richie Tenenbaum.
See how spoiled we who follow horse racing have been? The past four years have been absolutely incredible, so now if Rocky V should happen, well, we can’t say we didn’t have a nice run. Now, the real problem would be if 2012 becomes “Rocky Balboa”.
The Triple Crown provided some buzz, but it looks like Barry Irwin’s super European, indestructible, calculus solving, 80 word-per-minute typing, wine connoisseur, astronaut, cancer curing, mega horse Animal Kingdom is out of service. The good news is that he came out surgery just fine, thanks to Dr. Dean Richardson, the man who put Barbaro’s indiscernible hind leg back together. The bad news is we will likely never see this horse run again. Won the Derby? Second in the Preakness? Had an excuse in the Belmont? So long, farewell, don’t let the stall webbing hit you on the way out. Thanks for the memory.
Again, it looks like it could “ladies first.” Havre de Grace and Blind Luck are steamrolling through their races. HdG is 3-for-3 and Blind Luck just took the Vanity in style. Havre de Grace crushed Blind Luck in the Azeri back in March, so a rematch would be nice somewhere in Upstate New York at ten furlongs.
It’s looking like, for a third consecutive year, that a filly or mare could be Horse of the Year.
Maybe 2011 ain’t so bad after all, more Million Dollar Baby than Rocky V.
Brendan O'Meara is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. It is available for at SUNY Press. Read about narrative nonfiction at The Blog Itself, more horse racing at The Carryover Classic, follow him on Twitter, or "like" his book on Facebook. His website is http://www.brendanomeara.com.