I wonder what is better: the foreplay of a potential Triple Crown bid, or the actual thing. Having never experienced the actual thing, in the context of this conversation, of course, I wonder what’s best. In most cases, I’d side with the former because the latter will be a short-lived climax. Within a month things will go back to normal. The wheel in the sky keeps on turning (Tobasco Cat, get goin’!). There’s something special this time around and has little do with I’ll Have Another himself. We’ve been without a Triple Crown winner not for 34 years, but ten, and ten is far too long.
Seattle Slew, the last living Triple Crown winner, died on May 8, 2002, oddly enough 25 years to the day of his winning the Kentucky Derby. We’ve been without one of the 11 icons for ten long years, no living testament to the 11 biggest freaks the sport will ever see. Freaks is the right word and a sober Kent Desormeaux once told the New York Times after easing up Big Brown four years ago, “I was talking in the jockey room, and I can’t fathom what kind of freaks those 11 Triple Crown winners were.”
Seattle Slew died at the beginning of a spree of Triple Crown threats: War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones. Could it be the Curse of the Slew-bino?
From 1973 to 2002, a span of 29 years, horse racing had a living Triple Crown winner. Secretariat died in 1989 and Affirmed in 2001.
Baseball parades around its “Best Player Alive” and gives fans a sense of lore. In my memory it was Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Willie Mays. In baseball’s case there will always be a best player alive no matter the era. Horse racing’s equivalent is the Triple Crown winner.
How many people still watch Secretariat’s Derby, his amazing move in the Preakness, and moving like a “tremendous machine” in the Belmont? How about Affirmed’s battles with Aldyar? Seattle Slew is the red-headed, bastard, middle child of the 70s, but his accomplishments were no less impressive. (Which may be the reason for the Curse of the Slew-bino.) They exist only as video clips on YouTube or in the film reels of memory.
I’ll Have Another needs to win this race because the film negatives are getting old. You can’t visit a past Triple Crown winner unless you want to stand on a grave.
To borrow a term Jess Jackson used more than an acupuncturist uses needles, I’ll Have Another’s legacy continues to unfurl. He won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, Grade 1 Preakness Stakes and will break from the near-outside in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. His post will insure him of as a clean a break as possible, especially if My Adonis scratches. I’ll Have Another will sprint clear with little to no trouble and find himself in a swell tracking position heading into the first turn.
Big Sandy’s theme may as well be Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” because she makes the racin’ world go ’round. Can Mario Gutierez navigate those curves turns and will he have the patience at the 3/8s pole to sit and wait because it’s still a long, long way home.
Lately on Mike and Mike in the Morning they’ve been playing a God-awful sound clip of Jalen Rose singing, “They may be young, but they’re ready!” referring to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Led by a 23 and 22-year-old, they are in the finals. Sometimes too much experience weighs you down. Gutierez has the right mix of experience and youth: he’s won the Derby. He’s won the Preakness. He can deliver us a Triple Crown winner we can watch and visit in the flesh for the next 20 years. There are 11 ghosts. We need a living member of that Freak Fraternity to hold the torch and rush the 13th Triple Crown pledge with a fraternity whip.
Follow Brendan O'Meara on Twitter @BrendanOMeara. He is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga. Makes a nice gift.