As the Preakness Stakes has joined this year’s Kentucky Derby in racing history, it gave us something historic, something we’ve had only eleven times since I graduated from high school: three weeks of hope. I’ll Have Another is within one race of winning the Triple Crown, something that hasn’t happened since Affirmed did it in 1978. Until the running of the Belmont Stakes, we can hope for a Triple Crown winner.
Never mind that the hope has also been dashed eleven times since it was last fulfilled: we still have it. Sports writers are great at coming up with names, but no one has named the period between the Preakness and the Belmont, in years in which a threeyearold has won both the Derby and the Preakness. It is a time before the Belmont’s mile and a half distance either defeats the champion or produces a Triple Crown winner.
It is a time full of news stories, gossip, and these days, texting and Facebook messaging. My friend Kathy, in Wisconsin, with whom I had my own Derby adventures in the ’90s, texted me after the Preakness, saying that she thinks we may have a Triple Crown winner. And she added what we all think every year: Wouldn’t it be great to have one! Hope prevails.
She, and all of us, want another Triple Crown winner because we want a face of Thoroughbred racing to present to the world. Man O’War, as we saw in my last column, was that face, long after he retired from the track. Secretariat was the great ambassador of racing in the ’70s, and ’80s, right up until his death in 1989. I remember his three weeks of hope in 1973 like it was yesterday.
Secretariat won the 1973 Kentucky Derby in a time not matched to this day, followed by a win in the Preakness at a time that might or might not have been a record for that race as well; faulty timing equipment might well have robbed him of the recognition he deserved. And there was hope for a Triple Crown winner that spring, too.
There were naysayers. No horse with that much speed can run a mile and a half, they said. This seems silly now that we know that he won the race at a speed which may never be matched. But that’s always the question. If they asked it about Secretariat, they’ll ask it about anybody: Can I’ll Have Another keep up the momentum for a third race, at a mile and a half, as Kent Hollingsworth would say, a classic distance?
This year’s Triple Crown chase gives us another exciting theme: the duel between two great runners. Bodemeister, the favorite for both the Derby and Preakness, may have become that least sought after of Derby archetypes: the perennial second placer. Kathy suggested in her texts that this year’s duel was rather like the great duel between Affirmed and Alydar, which gave us our last Triple Crown winner, a battle we will examine more closely in my next column. Kathy’s bringing it up shows how much a big rivalry increases our interest in the races. We don’t just remember the winner, we remember the fun of the chase.
In our look at Sham, the great runner who ran second to Secretariat in the Derby and Belmont in 1973, only to be soundly beaten by him in the Belmont, we asked the question: Was Sham lucky or unlucky? The good luck was in being a great runner himself; the bad luck in being born the same year as Secretariat. Has the curse of Sham hit Bodemeister? Or, is Bodemeister more like Easy Goer, who ran second to Sunday Silence in the Derby and Preakness, only to beat him in the Belmont?
I suppose we won’t find out if he can do the latter. I’ll admit that I’m a bit disappointed by the decision not to run Bodemeister in the Belmont. I’d love to see another battle set up between two horses whose names are now intertwined in history, even if they never meet again on the track.
In 1989, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer also battled it out in the Breeder’s Cup Classic in the fall, with Sunday Silence again coming out on top. We’ll have to see the racing year progress to see if that will happen between these rivals this year; too early to predict.
What I can predict with absolute certainty, though, is that between the Preakness and the Belmont, this year at least, we will have plenty of hope. I plan to enjoy the anticipation thoroughly, whether or not I’ll Have Another ends up having a third.
Robert L. Treadway is senior policy analyst at Kentucky First Strategies, LLC, a full-service political consulting, lobbying, and governmental relations firm. In his role as a legal consultant, he also provides legal research and writing services to attorneys and law firms throughout Kentucky. Bob has a life long interest in Kentucky history, which he pursued as a student at Transylvania University, where he graduated with a major in history and minor in political science, and was an award winning editor of Transy’s student newspaper, The Rambler. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where his media activities included scriptwriting for Harvard Law Professor Arthur Miller’s TV series, and for Prof. Miller’s role as Legal Editor on ABC TV’s Good Morning, America. He writes, posts, and Tweets about Kentucky history. Look him up on Facebook; his Twitter feed is @rltreadway.