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Thursday, June 07, 2012


There’s No Entitlement to a Triple Crown


ELMONT, NY, June 7, 2012—The Belmont Stakes detention barn is sold out, as are the reserve seats, and the field has been set.

All that’s left for the bi-legged participants is the crossing of a final few T’s, hitting a couple of parties, and waiting for the morality play of Belmont 144 to work itself out.

Michael Matz; Olympian, Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, real life hero, and his owner, the daughter of a Virginia breeding legend, who once toiled in John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s White House but now conducts her life with gusto from a motorized wheel chair that seemingly never steps.

Phyllis Wyeth smokes victory cigars bigger than Red Auerbach’s and would love to have some gentleman match her in the winners’ circle at Belmont Park late Saturday afternoon after her Union Rags derails an historic bid.

That would be only fair considering it was her horse that was supposed to be the one making history. But funny things happen when you race toward antiquity because other people want the same dream, too. No one has the Triple Crown coming to them.

In the other corner sit the heavies of the piece, the anti-heroes replete with checkered pasts who probably thought it would never come to all this. But it has. There’s potential for victory on Saturday but, after Saturday, then what? More past; less future?

Will there be more about the O’Neill positives, overages, and the results of the appeal to his upcoming 45-day suspension? And what of Paul Reddam’s million-dollar Ditech fine, and allegations about Cash Call’s deceptive advertising, usurious interest rates, and strong-armed collectors?

You bet there will be more about all that.

Caught in the middle of these disparate set of characters are two gifted race horses--one that can become an immortal, and he’s completely innocent.

All I’ll Have Another does to be at his best is to subject himself to chiropractic back rubs and stretching exercises and an acupuncturist who sticks needles here, there and everywhere, meant to send what Far Easterners call chi, natural energy that courses through the system, helping the body to heal itself.

Meanwhile, it was the other animal that was supposed to find himself on history’s brink, and he will represent the other camp on Saturday.

Union Rags was the should-have-been juvenile champion, the runnerup with an asterisk due to pilot error, a fate that would play itself out, literally over and again in two of the three biggest races of his young life.

Because of the Triple Crown travails of Doug O’Neill, who wiseguys have dubbed Drug O’Neill for years, we’ve learned that horses can test for excessive levels of TCO2 without having been administered a concoction of baking soda, sugar and electrolytes.

What are we supposed to believe?

Instead, let’s one day concentrate on, you know, the horses--two very good horses among a small handful of other very good horses--in the champion’s test taking place late Saturday afternoon. Instead, think about this:

I’ll Have Another sold at auction for $35,000, the same as Seattle Slew’s $17,000 loosely adjusted for inflation. Morality plays are part of the human condition at every level but, while some race results are happier occasions than others, a race comes out the way a race comes out.

When you think about it, what’s more democratic than Thoroughbred racing? In the gate, whatever baggage horses carry beyond scale-weight, they are all four legs, a mane, and a tail, in the language of old school racetrackers.

Sometimes, it turns out that one of the horses has the heart of a true champion. But that’s why they run the races, to find out. Because when the gate opens, anything can happen, especially at a mile and a half, and that’s what makes this whole racetrack thing work.

When the gate springs open late Saturday afternoon, the present will go chasing the past and, one way or another, lies the future of the sport, as unknowable as a race result itself.

But for now, at 6:40 p.m. Saturday, root for your horse for whatever the reason and may the best horse find a clear path to victory. Sunday will take care of itself.

Written by John Pricci

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