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Sports Commentary: No triple crown

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California Chrome is a nice horse, but it has the deck stacked against him

By Mike Forster

 

I'd love to see horse racing produce a triple crown this year.

But it won't happen.

Oh, I'll see the last two races, all right.  I just won't see California Chrome win both of them.

The horse is already a champion, having won the Kentucky Derby in dominant fashion.  And the story of the two regular guys who own the horse certainly makes you want to pull for the horse.

That Chrome has a 77-year-old trainer makes his an even better story.

But Hallmark Channel tales don't translate into victories on the track.

Of course, my assertion here is a pretty tepid one:  It takes little boldness to make this prediction.  After all, there have been but 11 Triple Crown winners.  And, as I'm sure you'll hear several times during Saturday's Preakness broadcast, there have been none since Affirmed's 1978 coronation.

That's a drought of 35 years.  For reference, here's what was happening the last time we had a Triple Crown champion:

-Jimmy Carter was our president.

-Gasoline cost $0.63 per gallon.  And people were mad about that.

-Grease, Superman and Animal House were that year's top movies.

-The Bee Gees were the top musical act.

-Disco reigned throughout the land.  And people were mad about that.

Of course, a 35-year drought is a mere drop in the bucket (to mix metaphors on you) compared to what Cubs fans have endured.  That team is on a 106-year World Series dry spell, with no relief in sight.

But for those with less of a masochistic streak, 35 years is a long, hard time.

And, it's getting harder.

In the past five years, only one horse has won two of the three jewels of the triple crown (I'll Have Another, in 2012).  In the other four years, there were different winners in the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont.

Now that you have the facts, here are the reasons.  Well, their my reasons, anyway.

First, as I mentioned last week, the Kentucky Derby field is too large.  Because there are 20+ horses in the Derby, there are a number of good horses which get boxed out over the course of the race.

I noticed that Wicked Strong had its path to victory blocked on two distinct occasions during the Run for the Roses.

If Wicked Strong had a clean path, it may well have taken the win.

There have been several Derbies where the best horse wasn't the one in the winner's circle at day's end.

Those horses are typically the ones which get another shot at one of the subsequent races.  In fact, I'm already picking Wicked Strong for the Belmont.  

Another contributing factor is that there is always an infusion of fresh entrants into the Preakness and Belmont.  This Saturday's race includes at least seven horses which were not part of the Derby field.

The order of the Triple Crown has a two-week break between the first two races, and a three-week break between the last two.  That means that any Crown aspirant is on a training schedule dictated by that calendar.  Horses only running one of the races are readied on their own trainers' terms.

Finally, the biggest factor denying Triple Crowns is the last leg of it.  The Belmont is a full one and a half miles long, a full quarter mile longer than the Derby (and 5/16th of a mile longer than the Preakness).

The track also has the consistency of beach sand.  So, you have tired horses, trained on an unnatural schedule running a huge distance on a difficult surface.

It's no wonder we haven't had a champ in so long.

I'll still pull for the Chrome and lift a mint julep in his honor (even though that's a drink for another race).

But I'll be stunned if he pulls off the wins this Saturday and in another three weeks.