UPDATE: Damn, I knew I should have posted this yesterday. Seems that I’ll Have Another has been pulled from the race on Saturday because of tendonitis in his front legs. Well, here’s the original post anyway, for curiosity and historical sake.
Hey, we can handle more than just three sports, right? Sure, the site banner says otherwise, but I’m willing to go off the reservation from time to time for certain unique events. The Olympics are coming in a few weeks and that always provides some interesting stories; tennis will occasionally throw us something special like the Isner/Mahut match at Wimbledon 2010 (an 11 hour match played over 3 days); and there are usually a couple of great boxing matches each year – this Saturday’s fight between Pacquiao and Bradley certainly has the potential to be one of those.
There is another unique event Saturday though. For the first time in five years, there is the possibility for a Triple Crown winner in horse racing, something that has not happened since Affirmed accomplished it 1978 (the only time a Triple Crown happened in consecutive years, with Seattle Slew winning the year before). When you have an event that has only had 11 winners in 137 years, you should pay attention to the opportunities where it can happen again. There have been 20 other horses who won the first two legs, but failed at Belmont (a mile and a half long run – the longest of the three), meaning only 23% of the horses ever got a possibility at the Crown, and only a third of those actually pulled it off. For those keeping score, that means only 8% of the time have there been successful Triple Crown runs. A great part of sports is witnessing rare and unusual feats. I’d say 8% qualifies as rare.
I’m a bit of a secret horse racing enthusiast – not enough to have me at the track every week betting the rent money, but enough that I can confidently read the DRF (Daily Racing Form) and pick some winners (I hit a trifecta this past Memorial Day). I’ve watched every Triple Crown race for at least a decade, waiting to see this to happen in my lifetime (I was one year old in 1978, but I don’t count that since I doubt my parents held me in front of the TV to watch any of the races). Imagine how frustrating it was from 2002 through 2004, when three consecutive horses captured the first two legs of the crown, only to fail at the grueling Belmont Stakes (the same thing happened in 1997-1999, though the only one I can confidently recall actually watching is Charismatic in ’99). There’s only been one opportunity since (in 2008) and obviously that did not end in success either.
So I’ll be watching once again, but I also feel confident enough to suggest watching it to everyone else as well, even those uninitiated or uninterested in horse racing. After seeing this year’s Crown contender I’ll Have Another run the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, I have a strong feeling the drought is going to finally come to an end. Plenty of other people seem to feel the same, as he came into this final leg as a 4-5 favorite, better than even odds (meaning you’d only win 80 cents for every dollar you bet). This morning he’s a little lower, at 5-4, but that is still quite a vote of confidence. I expect that this feeling of inevitability is coming from the way that I’ll Have Another broke late in the two earlier races, putting out a burst of speed coming around the final turn to overtake the pack and win. If this horse could push that hard at the end and pull away from everyone else, there is no reason to expect that it won’t do the same during the longest run of the three, meaning it should have plenty of room to distance itself and claim first place. I’ll Have Another will also be running from gate 11 out of a 12-horse field, meaning it will start on the outside and not have to get crowded in the middle of the pack or up against the rail. It does add a bit more territory to cover before that first turn, but I’ll Have Another was able to do the same thing at the Kentucky Derby, where it started even further out at the 19th gate (there were 20 horses for that race), becoming the first horse to win from that position. This is a horse that was built to run the distance, and has already overcome its biggest challenge, the short track at the Preakness (where it squeaked out a victory by a neck over Bodemeister, the same horse it beat at the Derby. Bodemeister is not running at Belmont.)
Is there anything that can curb my enthusiasm? Yes, there are two, and they are currently the second- and third-favorite: Dullahan and Union Rags, respectively. These two horses bumped out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby, and that may have startled either or both and thrown them off their stride. Dullahan still managed to finish in 3rd and Union Rags, the more shaken up of the two, fell all the way back to 17th at one point before finally finishing 7th. It’s hard to say what would have happened if they had had a clean start, but since both were able to overcome those setbacks to finish relatively well, there is always the chance that they can pace I’ll Have Another and run just as strong at the end. They’ll both be running from the middle of the pack again though (Dullahan at gate 5, Union Rags at 3) so the post is eerily similar to the Derby.
We’ll see if history is made this Saturday. NBC loves to turn these races into 3- or 4-hour broadcasts, but don’t waste your time with all the filler. Tune in at 6:30pm and the race should start within 10 minutes or so. The actual run is only two or three minutes, and if you get to see what could be a once in a lifetime event, then isn’t that worth your time?