Guest Column: The Year Of The Triple Crown

Guest Column: The Year Of The Triple Crown

06 June, 2015
– Lisa Barrett

This year sees yet another attempt by a horse to capture America’s elusive Triple Crown. If he wins the Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah will become the first horse since Affirmed [pictured below] in 1978 to win America’s fabled crown.

What makes the Triple Crown so elusive? Many horses have tried, come heartstoppingly close to winning it, but in the 37 years since Affirmed’s win there hasn’t been a victor. One possible reason is the different lengths of the races, the Derby is over 1 ¼ miles (2012 m) or ten furlongs, the Preakness is over 1 3/16 miles (1911 metres) or 9.5 furlongs and the Belmont is over 1 ½ miles (2414 metres) or 12 furlongs, meaning that a horse needs to show versatility and ability over a variety of distances in the relatively short span of only five weeks between all the races in order to win the crown.

The great Penny Chenery who bred and raced the immortal Secretariat, reckoned that the breeding, training and development of horses has changed greatly over the past few decades. She said “We breed horses to be early winners. We don’t train them the same way,” “Today, a horse will go six weeks without being in a race. In my day, we raced every other week. And it just built the strength and allowed the horse to mature before you asked the ultimate question.”

The rise of the big, deep pocket breeder in the 80’s led to the evolution of a different style of racehorse, a horse was bred to come quicker, race speedier and be able to go over a shorter distance of ground as opposed to classic or staying distances. As a result, many feel that the durability and ability of the modern thoroughbred has been sacrificed in pursuit of prettier, speedier animals. The lament now is that American breeders should be concentrating on breeding a more durable classic/staying horse that can last the demanding distances of the Triple Crown races.

The horse currently firing the public’s imagination and favorite to win the coveted triple crown is American Pharaoh, a three year old colt by PioneeroftheNile. From an early age, American Pharaoh showed plenty of precocity, winning two Group Ones, the Del Mar Futurity and Frontrunner Stakes, for his efforts, he was named the Eclipse Champion Two Year Old Colt of 2014. By the time he was three, he had three Group Ones (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Arkansas Derby and a Group 2 (the Rebel Stakes) to his name.

Like many horses of recent generations, American Pharaoh was bred for speed, and it remains to be seen whether the longer distance of the Belmont will be a step too far for him. Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Big Brown, I’ll Have Another and California Chrome all tried, but failed to conquer the final hurdle of the punishing 12 furlongs (2414 metres) of the Belmont.

Nothing in American Pharaoh’s pedigree indicates that he will go over distances of greater than 9 furlongs. His sire PioneeroftheNile won at distances of up to 9 furlongs, and on his dam’s side, looms the larger-than-life presence of Storm Cat who was renowned for producing classic horses, the best of which was undoubtedly Giant’s Causeway. Whether this classic pedigree will be enough to help him surmount the last hurdle in the Triple Crown remains to be seen.

American Pharaoh also has the influence of several great stallions El Gran Senor, Brigadier Gerard, Mr. Prospector and Secretariat running through his veins. Having Secretariat in his pedigree could help American Pharaoh, after all, he won the Belmont by a staggering 31 lengths, and recorded the fastest 1 ½ miles in history clocking up 2;24 minutes, a record which stands to this day, and is unlikely to be beaten in the foreseeable future.

What counts against American Pharaoh though, is that several of the horses he is lining up against, skipped the Preakness and are well rested and raring to go in the Belmont. Among them is South Africa’s champion trainer Mike de Kock’s Mubaathij, who is aiming to do what Coastal (who later wound up at Summerhill Stud for his stud career) did to Spectacular Bid during the 1979 running of the Belmont, deny him the Triple Crown.

By early Sunday morning we will know one way another whether American racing has a new prince or not.

Lisa Barrett
– Guest Writer

“Lisa Barrett”, her psuedonym, currently works at a stud farm in the KZN Midlands. She is absolutely and totally crazy about horses and every aspect of them. She is fascinated by every aspect of the racehorse business, especially pedigrees and would like to one day write a book on her favourite sire!

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