Among the many sports I pay at least some attention to is horse racing. While I have only ridden a horse twice in my life, both times at the Feast of Tabernacles more than 20 years apart, I did grow up in the sort of rural environment where I grew up used to being around horses, and being around people who were very serious about them, and that seems to be a prerequisite to caring about horse racing as a sport. At any rate, as time allows I read articles about horse racing, watch movies about it, and look at videos of famous races from times past, or from the current Triple Crown season. For horse racing, May is really the month where casual fans like myself pay attention, while the rest of the year there are other races going on that help determine the outlines of who gets to race in these prestigious races.
For those who may not be aware, for the third time in four years, a horse has run the first two legs of the Triple Crown and is poised to become the first Triple Crown winner since Secretariat in 1978, which was three years before I was born. For those who think of me as a bit old, put that into perspective. While numerous horses have been a threat to win the three most prestigious races for three year olds, no horse has been able to do it for almost a couple of generations. The reasons for this are somewhat profound, and so I would like to at least briefly discuss the state of horse racing and the quest for that rarest and most prestigious of feats, and what stands in the way of its completion. I do not know what can be done about it, but it is worthwhile to at least discuss what barriers exist for our equine competitors to achieving immortality of a sort.
For one, the three races of the triple crown are run over a four week period starting the first Sabbath in May. As might be imagined, it is not easy for horses to run three races in four weeks. The grind for such an experience is similar to that of March Madness in NCAA basketball , with the difference that the schedule for basketball is similar all year round, with a steady rate of two games a week, except in conference tourney season, and one only plays one team at a time. In horse racing, the problem is more complicated, in that a horse will qualify for the Kentucky Derby by showing some promise and winning an early season race that few people pay attention to like the Arkansas Derby or the Florida Derby or the Santa Anita Downs, or other contests like that. Then the horses will often have a bit of rest before the Kentucky Derby, then two weeks before the Preakness, and then two weeks before the Belmont Stakes. When horses have to race and win three times at lengths from a mile to a mile and a half (the Belmont States being the longest at a mile and a half), when they are not used to doing it, it is a difficult problem.
The problem is made more difficult by the fact that it is not a level playing field. For a horse to win a Triple Crown, it has to win all three races. In the last few years a consistent pattern has occurred. First a horse will win a few early races, establish itself as a favorite, and then win the Kentucky Derby in a hard-fought contest. After this, some trainers, including one ominously named “Timid Todd” will remove their contenders who did not win and save them for a chance in the Belmont. The winner of the Kentucky Derby will then compete against a much lighter field at the mile-long Preakness and will usually have enough talent and energy to win, often in convincing fashion. Unfortunately, being a winner of the first two legs of the Triple Crown then means that every other horse is trying to play spoiler, without much concern for who wins. When you take into account random gate position, this can be a very difficult matter to overcome, and so for almost 40 years, no horse has managed to win all three.
So what can be done to make winning the Triple Crown a more feasible achievement. One suggestion might be longer spacing out between races, perhaps one a month rather than one every two weeks. Since contemporary horses race about once every four weeks or so, this would allow for them to be fully rested between races, and allow the best horses to win. Another possibility would be to handle horse racing in a multi-stage tournament fashion. In this way, one would not be eligible to race at Belmont Stakes without having raced both prior Triple Crown races. This would put all of the horses on a level playing field, as there would no longer be the possibility of a horse dodging one or both legs of the Triple Crown races only to show up as spoilers at the end. The question is, does horse racing want to counter the obvious plays of contemporary gamesmanship, or do they want to do what they have always done?
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