The average win pay out for the Triple Crown was $40.83. That ain’t boring money, it’s both celebratory and maddening money for overlooking Animal Kingdom, failing to think Shackleford could hold onto the lead, and skimming over Ruler On Ice because, well, wasn’t Nehro or AK supposed to win!?
It seems impossibly far away that Robby Albarado was kicked in the face by a horse (if you hand’t believed in karma, do you now?) which prompted him to be taken off Animal Kingdom and subbed in for by John R. Velazquez. Albarado showed them by winning a Grade 1 on the Derby undercard, but it mattered little in the end.
Most were introduced to trainer Graham Motion for the first time, whose cool demeanor and gosh-darn-so-freakin’-likeable-you-just-want-to-have-him-over-for-dinner-and-then-throw-on-Ghostbusters charm infected the racing world for five weeks.
Most were introduced to Team Valor president Barry Irwin for the first time and were, at first, put off by him. My God! Is this man offering a contrarian opinion of the status quo! How dare he!? Does he not know who we are? Huffabub frim fram! This guy should be applauded for catching us all from falling out of the rye.
Most were introduced to how Velazquez can look like he’s attending a five-year-old’s ballet recital instead of looking like he won the one race every jockey this side of Mars wants to win (I won’t pretend to know what jockeys want on the other side of Mars. Probably some intergalactic moon crown.)
Most were introduced to Dale Romans, a racetrack lifer who has won some BIG races (Dubai World Cup and gaggles of Grade 1s) but to see this Kentucky boy saddle a Triple Crown-race winner was something to behold. One of these days his mug will be emblazoned on the side of a building in Louisville along with Paul Newman and others.
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito saddled the Derby favorite, the second coming of Secretariat. A story by assistant trainer Tim Poole about the first time jockey Julien Leparoux would ride Dialed In:
“Nick asked Julien if he’d ever seen the movie “Secreariat”. Julien said, ‘Yes.’ Nick said, ‘Cuz I’m puttin’ you on ’im.’”
Uh, ooooh. Dialed In clipped off horses in the Derby, clipped them off to finish well back. His trip was, to put it mildly, dirty. The poor colt squinted through a dust bowl and never found his rhythm. On to Baltimore for a shot at $5 million for winning the Magna Crown (Holy Bull, Florida Derby, Preakness Stakes). Nope. Didn’t happen.
Then it’s the longest three weeks in horse racing: when the Belmont Stakes waits for no Triple Crown. But something wonderful happened. Animal Kingdom, the Derby winner and Preakness runner up committed. So too did the Preakness winner Shackleford. Not only that, but the Derby runner up, Nehro, threw his hat into the bullring. Brilliant Speed too, and a no-name out of New Jersey-based Kelly Breen’s barn.
And Tom Durkin, who didn’t renew his Triple Crown contract to call the races for NBC, recited a beautiful Belmont Stakes with turns of phrase and brilliant elocution. It was Ruler On Ice holding off Uncle Mo’s stablemate, Stay Thirsty.
Isn’t He Perfect, a horse of junior varsity talent, came in on Animal Kingdom, made Velazquez lose an iron, and thus the Belmont Stakes. Irwin had a point that certain horses don’t belong in certain races. Guadalcanal came in on Big Brown in the 2008 Belmont. On paper Mine That Bird didn’t belong in the 2009 Derby field. All he did was skip over the mud, skip past Durkin’s often keen eye, and skip under a blanket of roses (never won another race, but you know who else never won another race? Dunkirk.)
And Animal Kingdom was a tad lame, brought on by a bad trip, a back slash in his hock.
On we go into the summer. Bring on the Spa.
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 pre-order at Amazon.com or at SUNY Press. Read about narrative nonfiction at The Blog Itself, more horse racing at The Carryover Classic, read his "Bourbon Underworld" stories at Kentucky Confidential, follow him on Twitter, or "like" his book on Facebook. His website is http://www.brendanomeara.com.