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Best of John G. Brokopp
The Glory of Racing's Triple Crown4 June 2002
Every sport has a championship showdown. In baseball it's the World Series, in football it's the Super Bowl, in hockey it's the Stanley Cup. What are the common denominators among them? Answer: All are team sports and there is a winner every year.
There are only a select number of sports that showcase a championship series. In golf it is the Grand Slam and in thoroughbred horse racing it's the Triple Crown. Common denominators? All are individual sports and there definitely is not a winner every year.
The honor rolls of World Series, Super Bowl, and Stanley Cup winners through the years all boast teams of varying championship qualities. There's little doubt some were better than others. Some stand out as dynasties, others gather dust on the shelves of time. It's an inevitability when there has to be a winner.
There doesn't have to be a Grand Slam golf champion, nor does there have to be a Triple Crown thoroughbred champion. Yet, the opportunity exists to have a winner every year. The events that comprise both the Grand Slam and the Triple Crown are held annually. Individually they are difficult to win, collectively they represent nearly insurmountable challenges.
The great Bobby Jones stands alone in the world of golf as the only person to win the Masters, British Open, U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship in the same year (1930).
Similarly, of the tens of thousands of thoroughbreds foaled every year, only an elite 11 have ever won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes: Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978).
There were no Triple Crown champions in the 50s and 60s. None in the 80s and 90s. There was a 25-year gap between Citation and Secretariat. It has been 24 years since the last Triple Crown winner.
Triple Crown champions are in a class by themselves. Every thoroughbred has only one chance to join the exclusive club. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont are restricted to 3-year-olds. When you get right down to it, thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown just may be the most elite mantel of greatness in all of sports. Even the greatest of golfers have a chance to win the Grand Slam every year.
The three Triple Crown stakes are held at three different race tracks in three different states at three different distances during a span of six weeks! The track configurations and running surfaces are different in every instance, plus there's this little complication: Many of the thoroughbreds who compete in the Triple Crown races are barely three years of age by the calendar. Since race horses celebrate a universal birthday on January 1, horses foaled in May turn a year old the following January, yet in reality they are only seven months old.
The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., is the first jewel of the Triple Crown. It is held on the first Saturday in May at a distance of 1 1/4 miles, the furthest the competitors have ever been asked to run. All of the major stake preps leading up tot he Derby are at 1 1/8 miles.
The Derby has become America's most famous horse race. It didn't always enjoy that reputation. Once upon a time it was just another race. Then along came Col. Matt Winn in the 1920s to run Churchill Downs. A marketing genius far ahead of his time, he "talked up" his track's biggest race and laid the groundwork for the status it enjoys today.
After the Kentucky Derby, the horses move on to Baltimore, Md., for the Preakness Stakes at historic Pimlico Race Course. At a distance of 1 3/16 miles, the race is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby. The configuration of Pimlico has always favored horses with early speed.
The third and final jewel of the Triple Crown is held at Belmont Park in New York City, three weeks after the Preakness. The race is called "The Test of the Champion" and rightfully so. It's a demanding 1 1/2 miles, in many cases the first and only time the horses will ever be asked to run that far.
When you take into account the media hoopla that surrounds the Triple Crown events, the hordes of people who pack the stands, the noise, the hype, it's a miracle any horse has been able to overcome the obstacles that stand in his way on the road to racing greatness!
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
Best of John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp