Monday, May 19, 2014
On Making the Triple Crown Even Better
LOS ANGELES, May 18, 2014—Along with considerably more competition than he faced in the Preakness with fresh and ready-to-pounce rivals in the June 7 Belmont Stakes, California Chrome's destiny awaits him in New York, pending stewards’ approval on whether he will be permitted to race with his customary nasal strip.
[Ed. note] On the recommendation of Dr. Scott Palmer, the NYRA unanimously agreed to allow the colt to race with a nasal strip in the Belmont Stakes. All Thoroughbreds in New York State no longer will be banned from wearing the apparatus that aids a horse to breathe. Palmer said that "it is not performance enhancing."
If permitted to start, NYRA will get its coveted Triple Crown attempt after all. The new cast assembled to derail Chrome’s bid for superstardom over the weekend was particularly underwhelming this year as 16 of the 19 Derby runners said no to Maryland’s hospitality.
Parenthetically, four of Chrome’s 18 Derby rivals were trained by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher’s Preakness pass-over has become the rule rather than the exception, but he is not alone in this thinking.
With the Tonalist unable to make into the Louisville starting gate, for example, Christophe Clement never gave the Preakness a second thought. Having the Belmont as the ultimate goal, Clement pragmatically chose lesser rivals, an extra week’s rest, and a race over the track rather than run in the Triple Crown’s second leg.
Without change, this example and others like it will continue to be the rule, not the exception, and the series will not be all that it can be in the future. No sport in the modern era has resisted schedule change like racing has.
This is not a new problem for Pimlico or the modern Triple Crown series. Even raising the purse didn’t change things dramatically. And Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, spoke up and said he would approach the other.
Triple Crown tracks to discuss what has become the game’s spacing issues.
I was unfamiliar with Chuckas before his interview with John Scheinman but his plan for "spreading out" the Triple Crown certainly had a familiar ring. Wrote Scheinman: "Blood Horse "Chuckas said he will work toward a schedule that has the Kentucky Derby retain its position on the first Saturday in May, while the Preakness would be moved to the first weekend in June and the Belmont Stakes to the first weekend in July."
One might have first read about a similar proposal here at HRI in 2009 when executive editor John Pricci wrote in "http://www.horseraceinsider.com/On-The-Line/comments/06122009-altering-triple-crown-schedule-gaining-momentum/#comments" target="_new">this blog, "a Triple Crown of longer duration not only better serves the horse but makes promotional sense by keeping the series alive longer. The distances and venues should remain the same …
“The Kentucky Derby has secured its traditional place on the first Saturday in May… We originally proposed that the Preakness be run on the first Saturday in June. This makes it more likely that the Derby horses would run back in the Preakness, thus improving series continuity while raising the profile of racing’s glamour division with mainstream fans…
“A Memorial Day weekend [schedule], which would allow a minimum of 3-½ weeks between the first two legs--likely closer to four if that weekend stretches into the first Saturday in June…
“And what could be a more fitting conclusion to this uniquely American series than a Belmont Stakes on the 4th of July…?
“Wouldn’t the accomplishment be even greater if the Derby and/or Preakness winner had to defeat a larger number of contiguous rivals…?
“Find a sponsor and bring back a participation and winner’s bonus… Even mainstream media is getting into the act on this. ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde has adopted the Triple Crown holiday scenario …"
[Ed. Note: Forde wrote about it again this year].
Chukas's remarks followed those stated by Stuart Janney III a day or two earlier which were reported in the Baltimore Sun:
"If Janney had his way, the Derby would take place the first Saturday in May as always but the Preakness would be moved back to Memorial Day weekend, and the Belmont would be a month after that, which would reflect a more normal running schedule for top 3-year-olds."
"I think it would help training patterns because trainers now are more comfortable giving horses a bit more time trying to produce what they would hope would be a peak effort," [Janney] said.
"And I don't think at this point they're comfortable running in the Preakness the way they have been in the past. What you are seeing again this year is that a lot of trainers just skip the Preakness and run the Belmont because they think they get an advantage having the horse rested for that period of time. Certainly, that's [Todd] Pletcher's strategy."
One might suspect this idea now could gain the support of Frank Stronach who has made a career out of thinking outside the box. It will be interesting to see whether the new NYRA and Team Cuomo are willing to cooperate.
Unfortunately, one can envision a scenario in which California Chrome comes through and becomes the long-awaited 12th horse in history to sweep the triad. How ironic would that be: a Triple Crown winner that could inhibit rather than inspire industry cooperation?
My own preference is for four weeks between legs; long enough to provide adequate rest but not too long to seriously impact the national schedule in an overly-dramatic fashion.
In my view, a Memorial Day-Independence Day Triple Crown schedule would not only weaken focus on the proceedings but would also remove two of racing's prime exposure opportunities for other divisions, particularly the handicap division with familiar names from prior years' Triple Crown events.
Racing needs more big days to promote itself, not fewer. How ironic, too, that the new $8 million Belmont Stakes day schedule denies promotional opportunities on other big Belmont Saturdays.
Given California Chrome’s quest, the storied Metropolitan Mile and the Race of the Year, featuring the Breeders’ Cup Distaff rematch among champion Beholder vs Princess of Sylmar vs Close Hatches are already mainstream media afterthoughts. Attractions have become distractions.
An aside: Perhaps someday there will be a national graded stakes schedule that provides optimal exposure of past and younger equine stars with optimal spacing between divisional events. Imagine the best facing the best in full fields on a regular basis. What a concept.
Presently, the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup allow for big days at a single venue are the best things racing has. But optimizing big days that comprise big races at multiple venues could provide shared promotional opportunities and costs by offering affordably-low-takeout horizontals such as a 50-Cent National Pick 5.
But for something like that to occur, confrontation and consuming self-interest would have to give way to cooperation and compromise, admittedly a very tall order. A sensible lengthening of the Triple Crown, making the series stronger, not weaker, would be an excellent place to start.