Friday, June 20, 2014


The Case for a Lower Case triple crown


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, June 18, 2014—I was happy to see the other day that Steve Haskin of the Bloodhorse suggested that the Triple Crown for Fillies—oops, make that lower case triple crown, insisted the late, great Joe Hirsch—for Fillies be revived.

Perhaps this is an idea whose time has come. Again.

Now before anyone says it won’t have a smidgeon of the impact that the Upper Case version does, we are already aware. But that’s not the point, nor should it be.

This triad would be for thoroughbred racing fans that will care, and each race of the series could a possible anchor leg of an All-Stakes Pick 4, even if the events are overnighters with a purse of $100,000. Hopefully, it would get more support than that.

One of my fondest memories was of Mom’s Command winning the mile and a half Coaching Club American Oaks after having taken the Acorn and Mother Goose previously.

Even though she dominated her generation, not many believed she would go that far, but her class prevailed.

It was a real family affair as the Hall of Fame filly was owned by Peter Fuller and ridden by his daughter, Abigail. Fuller was a driving force behind the creation of a racing circuit in New England, once a hot-bed of thoroughbred racing and still home to passionate fans and horseplayers.

Then, of course, there was the great Davona Dale, another Hall of Famer that was so good she won two filly triple crowns, the older traditional version run at Churchill, Pimlico and Belmont, and the same NYRA version won by Mom’s Command.

If there were one this year, it might have caught on nationally what with Kentucky Oaks winning Untapable reaching second in the NTRA three-year-old poll, now third behind Belmont Stakes winning Tonalist.

Many believe her to be the most talented sophomore in America. If not, she certainly has run her way into the conversation.

If a filly triple crown were to be resurrected, wouldn’t a national version with sensible spacing, preferably at the Upper Case tracks, be that be something worth seeing?

But why stop there? Why not a three race series for all divisions?

Yes, I know, something like this was tried years ago with the American Racing Series which generally was greeted with a collective yawn.

With more and more horse racing making its way back on television, good programming is a must. Why not a series in all divisions to promote interest and continuity, from the babies to the old pros?

The championship landscape in all divisions has changed. There are some divisional champions—juveniles and sprinters come immediately to mind—that are generally crowned after season’s end victories in the Breeders’ Cup.

That was the intended goal of the Breeders’ Cup, that, and it to be a traveling road show for thoroughbred racing. In the last decade, however, the accent has been on handle with added races that hardly reflect championship divisions.

The Marathon and Juvenile Sprint, for instance, were staged as ungraded events sans the seven-figure “championship” purses, their existence appearing to be little more than parimutuel fodder for the Friday programs.

Those kind of races notwithstanding, there is the other argument that when Breeders’ Cup crowns a champion it can do so at the expense of the regular season of traditional, high profile events. No better example than horse for course Beholder’s Distaff victory trumping Princess of Slymar’s considerable body of work in time honored events at different venues.

There would be no need to reinvent the field. If racetrack and industry executives were administered truth serum instead of the local Kool Aid, all could construct a consensus of the most important races in each division.

For example—truly as example only—a Grade 1 9-furlong series including the Donn Handicap, Stephen Foster Handicap and Whitney Handicap would be an very attractive package in attractive settings.

Older fillies and mares could face off in the Apple Blossom, Ogden Phipps and Spinster, a triad providing a top class stage on which the female runners could establish their best-in-show credentials.

And if a three-year-old wanted to throw her hooves into the ring in the fall at Keeneland, that would only lend to the drama and provide greater championship definition.

An older horse turf series at 10 furlongs that features the Manhattan Handicap, Arlington Million and Clement L Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship Stakes could lend more definition to the Breeders’ Cup Turf, an event traditionally dominated by the Europeans.

Even if any of the above races have been reduced by circumstances and scheduling to becoming latter-day Breeders’ Cup preps, the winners could have raised their profiles so significantly throughout the year against top company as to hold safe their Eclipse Award lead vs a talented European interloper to be named later.

But it’s not limited to that. It’s about growing interest and business, with the added benefit of possibly growing the game if television networks do their jobs and package a triple crown, lower case, in all divisions.

Written by John Pricci

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