Thursday, May 29, 2008

Triple Crown or Triple Threat?

In keeping with the theme of exploring different avenues of the sporting world, an important event is coming up June 7th. The running of the Belmont Stakes. This year we're looking at a possible Triple Crown winner. We're also looking at a possible disaster for the horse racing community.

There have been eleven Triple Crown winners. The last one was Affirmed, the great great grandson of 1937 winner War Admiral (pictured above). This year there is a strong chance a horse named Big Brown will sweep the three big races and become the 12th to claim the crown.

14.3 million viewers tuned in to watch Big Brown easily win the 1.25 mile Kentucky Derby but it's what happened after the race that casts a cloud over Belmont. Second place finisher Eight Bells was euthanized immediately after the race on the track due to compound fractures of both front legs. Two years ago it was Barbaro that was injured and euthanized months later. Now, going in to the Belmont, it is Big Brown's left front hoof that carries the horse racing world.

Big Brown has a slight quarter crack of his left hoof. The area has been cleaned and dried and nature is taking its course. A patch will be applied to secure the area and Big Brown continues to train and jog lightly in preparation. With at least fifty million dollars in stud fees waiting for the owners if Big Brown is a Triple Crown winner, the pressures to run this race are enormous.

I'm not here to comment on the ethics of horse racing. I would like to see some changes but I also see a long and proud tradition. However, in what other major sport is there a chance the star may be put to death due to injury? Medically Big Brown is cleared to race but can the race community and NBC ( the telecaster) afford another high profile death on live television? There used to be rivalries in racing. Horses competed against each other for several years. The best of the best going head to head. There was always next year. In this big money world though, Big Brown could win the Belmont and retire as a 3 year old. Far more valuable as a stud then as a racer.

Much has been made of the breeding in this "sport". Are the horses too strong for their own good? Bred to be too fast for their slender ankles? It is certainly a possibility. Of the twenty one horses running in the Kentucky Derby, every one is a descendant of 1950's racer Native Dancer. Personally, I believe the track textures could be more of an issue. With varying conditions and track surfaces it may be of benefit to explore a synthetic surface similar to field turf that could create a more consistent track.

So history could be made on June 7th at the Belmont Stakes, Let's hope it's for the right reasons.

One last note... in 1919 an unbeatable horse named Man O War lost to the underdog. That horse's name was Upset. So now when an underdog beats the favorite...

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