Thirty-three years have slipped away since Affirmed held off Alydar, in 1978, to sweep a dramatic Triple Crown. Since that Saturday, in June, no horse has stood in the winner's circles at Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park all in a five week period. Many fans, including myself, have never seen a living, breathing Triple Crown winner. The question, 'What changed?' has come up, and moderation is being considered by the racing industry.
Are the fields too strong for one horse to go 3-0? History says no. Although, the times were slower than usual in 2010, in the previous years, the finishes have hovered around average times for the Triple Crown.
Common sense would tell us that the horses of today should be more prepared for the Triple Crown trail; a less vigorous racing schedule, better nutrition, more advanced medical technology and less stressful transportation. Then what evidence is there to support a theory that the Thoroughbred can no longer handle the wear and tear of the Triple Crown trail? In the first half of the 20th century, horses would run races only days apart without injury. A horse, such as War Admiral, had winning streaks that would include races just a week apart. Of course, I am certainly not suggesting that horses should be run so often, but it gives me pause to think.
Every year, around Derby time, I'm sure it is on the minds of The Jockey Club and NTRA, how it would give the racing industry a huge boost to have another Triple Crown winner. Last year, various leaders in the industry suggested possible changes; one was to adjust the distances of the Triple Crown races, and another was to make it for four year olds. These ideas never seem to gain any traction. No doubt because they don't want to diminish the accomplishments of past Triple Crown greats, such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Gallant Fox, Omaha, Whirlaway, Citation, Sir Barton, War Admiral, Count Fleet, and Assault. I personally believe that the actual races should never be changed. But one thing I could live with is changing the eligibility guidelines. One possible change could be that you must participate in each consecutive race in order to move to the next. No racing in the Derby and skipping the Preakness so you can save your horse for the Belmont. Just imagine how different the 2009 campaign would have looked; Mine That Bird would have won the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont! Also, making history being the first gelding to win the Triple Crown!
Is it a coincidence that the Breeders' Cup was created just a few years following the last Triple Crown winner? Could this have changed thoroughbred racing to the extent that we will never see another Triple Crown winner again? The Breeders’ Cup may have had a bigger impact on racing than was anticipated. I believe that because there are now more important races, bigger purses and different distances, breeders began focusing on creating a Thoroughbred that could run average race distances. It makes sense that this began in the '80's, with the introduction of the Breeders' Cup. Breeding for the Classic distance has become less and less popular.
Leading breeders should make a strong effort to bring Classic distance back into horses' pedigrees. Importing promising mares from major racing countries in Europe, as Claiborne, and August Belmont did in the early 1900's would be a great start. Both farms had their best success from their European stock. From England, came Rock Sand, which led to Man O' War; La Troienne, one of the greatest broodmares of all time, and Giant's Causeway, who sired Eskendereya.
I remain hopeful that racing’s “powers that be” will strive forward towards creating another Triple Crown champion.