This is one of those inevitable discussions, like dandelions on your lawn.
Every time a horse is in line for the Triple Crown, there’s talk about expanding the schedule for the three legs. Hell, this conversation starts even when there isn’t one on the line.
Those in favor have two worthy claims: not enough (losing) Kentucky Derby horses come back to run in the Preakness (which somehow diminishes the second leg), and winning the Triple Crown would still be an incredibly difficult task, one of the rarest in sports, with more time between the legs.
I’m asking the racing schedule gods to leave everything as it is.
Not averse to change, mind you, and there’s plenty in this sport that needs it.
But First Saturday in May, Preakness two weeks later and Belmont Stakes three weeks after that is as it should be because the next winner needs to be measured against the flurry of three Triple Crown winners that happened in the 1970s — Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.
I’m OK with the fact that the Triple Crown is so hard to pull off, so much so that we haven’t had one since 1978. It’s supposed to be hard.
Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which administers the Preakness, said last weekend that he wants more time between the Derby and Preakness so that more Derby horses would run back at Pimlico.
The only two to do so, other than California Chrome, were Ride On Curlin and General a Rod.
California Chrome’s own trainer, Art Sherman, said there was little chance he would’ve been in the Preakness if he hadn’t won the Derby, echoing Todd Pletcher’s sentiments when he won the Derby in 2010 with Super Saver.
Chuckas, who suggested that the Belmont could be pushed as far back as July 4, cited two factors for why the Triple Crown schedule should be longer.
Thoroughbreds aren’t bred for three races in five weeks anymore, he said, and trainers and owners don’t manage their stock that way once they’ve got them on the track, either.
Coincidentally — or not — those factors were mentioned by Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, during a national teleconference on Tuesday that brought together a variety of Triple Crown connections, but she used it to defend the Triple Crown schedule.
Also on the call were Patrice Wolfson, who co-owned Affirmed, and Affirmed’s jockey, Steve Cauthen; Dr. Jim Hill; trainer Billy Turner and jockey Jean Cruguet of Seattle Slew fame; and Ron Turcotte, who rode Secretariat.
“They don’t breed for stamina, and they don’t train to run as frequently,” Chenery said. “Most of them run just six times in a year. The Triple Crown is three times under tough competition in only five weeks.”
They unanimously agreed that no one should tamper with the schedule.
“If you change it, you give a chance to a lesser horse, and that’s not what it’s about,” Turner said.
“That would be awful,” Wolfson said. “It’s a unique, wonderful set of races, and if they changed it, it would invalidate it. It’s such a special group of races. The timing is perfect, and a horse has to be up to it. They shouldn’t change it under any circumstances.
“They have to be [great], that’s what makes it the challenge it is.”
I happened to be standing next to her in the jam-packed Belmont Park paddock when Big Brown tried to win it in in 2008, and she said she’d love to see the horse do it because it would be great for the sport.
There were plenty of people rooting against Big Brown — nothing against the horse, actually — because of his brash, unsavory owners. We won’t have that problem this time.
Trainer Sherman, 77, has shown himself to be a lovable character, and the owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, are cut from a different cloth than the bluebloods who win many of these races. The chestnut colt, with a prominent white blaze on his nose and white socks on all four feet, has proven to be a hambone in front of the cameras.
No matter the storylines, though, the Triple Crown people from the 1970’s are not only rooting for California Chrome to finally get racing off the schneid, but they firmly believe he will.
“It’s a wonderful story, and they’re doing it with dignity and charm. And I love the horse,” Chenery said.
“I’d love to see the horse win, and I really think he’s going to do it,” Turcotte said.
“This horse has the best chance to do it,” Wolfson said. “There’s something special about him. If one does it, you want it to be a horse who brings some excitement, and he has that.
“I’m ready to give up ‘The last Triple Crown,’ ” she said with a laugh. “Sometimes I think my name is ‘Mrs. Last Triple Crown.’ ”