Saturday, 11 September 2010

Will The Triple Crown Ever Be Won Again?

Once a year, the American public and media turn their attention to horse racing (and, yes, I know I'm ignoring the brilliant but ESPN based Breeders' Cup).  Every spring, even the New York Times takes to asking, 'will we get a triple crown winners this year?'  Once the first leg of the triple-crown, the Kentucky Derby has been run, all attention is turned to the second leg, the Preakness Stakes.  If the Kentucky Derby winner, wins the Preakness, then all attention turns to the Belmont Stakes.  If the Kentucky Derby winner fails to win the Preakness, then media interest in horse racing returns to a polite whisper for another year.

Of course, there used to be a triple crown that meant just as much in this country.  The third leg of the triple crown, the 1m 6f St Leger, is being run this afternoon at Doncaster.  The winners of the other two legs, the 2000 Guineas and the Derby will not be running in the race.  Indeed, they haven't run in the St Leger for many years.  

Nijinsky in 1970 was the last horse to win the triple crown.  Reference Point in 1987 was the last horse to win both the Derby and the St Leger.  These days, Derby winners don't even think about going for the Leger.  The Champion Stakes, Prix De L'Arc De Triomphe or the Breeders' Cup are seen as better end of season targets.  The extended distance of the St Leger is regarded as damaging a champion's stud value, in an age where bloodstock is dominated by speed, rather than stamina (although some of the best sires of recent years are stamina laden).

That is all a massive shame.  Flat racing all too often resembles, to paraphrase Churchill, a pudding without a theme.  There is nothing to hold public interest, in a way that Cheltenham does for jumps racing.  While 'Racing For Change' tinkers at the edges, it hasn't really proposed anything to make flat racing more mainstream and more popular.  Restoring the importance of the triple crown (with something resembling the Betfair bonus in national hunt racing) might go some way to keeping mainstream media interest on flat racing.

Who knows if the triple crown will ever be won again.  But we should hope that it is restored to its former pinnacle, in the eyes of trainers, the media and, more importantly, the public.

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