I like 3-year-old racing for the excitement it brings to the sport, the good betting opportunities it affords, and the teachable moments about the process that helps to understand the contestants.
I like the fact that repetition and experience informs the process to better understand the practitioners themselves. I’ve trained hundreds of horses on this word processors over the years and never have lost a race.
I never won one, either, but I’m seldom in doubt. For some reason, But this Triple Crown season was different. It wasn’t gee whiz, wide-eyed business as usual.
But from the day after Orb’s Kentucky Derby to the day after Palace Malice’s Belmont Stakes, I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a Triple Crown chase more.
Then it hit me: This was about a Triple Crown won by people, with horses in a supporting role. It was a chase that looked promising for a while but once again did not produce an equine with true charisma, much less one for the ages.
After seeing how this year’s series was received, racing’s decline due to a perceived unpopularity with the public might have more to do with mainstream media apathy than the notion that horses have become irrelevant.
Every year, the Triple Crown, whether the quest is lost or won, is an event that celebrates a sport’s history, making it possible to revere the past the way sports fans embrace Ruth’s Yankees, Lombardi’s Packers, Russell’s Celtics or ‘Rocket’ Richard’s Canadiens.
What made this Triple Crown run so enjoyable for so many is because it celebrated all that came before, what it is now, and how it portends for the future.
Time’s baton was passed, from Derby to Preakness to Belmont, endlessly through time, from the steadfast Wheatley domain, to Triple Crown-dominant Calumet, to ground-breaking Dogwood, racing’s original syndicator.
The 2013 chase also celebrated horsemanship in all its disparate forms; from Kentucky-bred trainer indentured to a family dynasty to a renaissance trainer with special vision to forever turn a sport into big business, to a protégé that would take the original model and raise it to levels unknown.
Watching Shug McGaughey realize his dream and enjoy the entire process despite the disappointments that followed was to see a good man who gets it, that a Kentucky Derby victory is a blessing, more than enough to last a lifetime.
Seeing his rider, a young Joel Rosario win the two biggest prizes in the world in a span of five weeks, become one of the sport’s best human athletes was a revelation immersed in the knowledge that he’s still learning.
Watching Wayne Lukas, a revolutionary who forever changed the way the game is played break a record for Triple Crown victories lent historical perspective to the 2013 chase.
Watching 50-year-old Gary Stevens, out of the competitive saddle for seven years, put on a riding clinic to win the Triple Crown’s middle jewel then seeing him celebrate on the gallop-out befits a time capsule moment.
Watching Todd Pletcher, who has raised his mentor’s game several notches on his way to becoming the sport’s most prolific winner, tweak Palace Malice’s development with the skill of an old school master to turn a talented underachiever into a classic winner was the kind of moment fans can only hope to see again.
Seeing Mike Smith, no youngster himself, work out a perfect trip aboard a horse he helped run off to lose America’s Race decisively, only to return and guide that same horse to victory in the champion’s test.
Finally, enjoying Cot Campbell, the man who made it possible for 40 men to own one horse instead of the other way around, enjoy the moment, as he watched the fruits of his labor succeed was the stuff smiles are made of.
Every one of these 2013 Triple Crown winners are old enough, wise enough, and secure enough to know that what they achieved is a blessing that few people get to experience.
There was no Triple Crown to celebrate this year. But to see the process unfold and enjoy the satisfaction derived by some of the game’s best and brightest, will have to do until the next history maker comes along. Until then, what happened in the Triple Crown 2013 was plenty good enough.