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Retro Diary: Triple Crown Aspirations and Failures of the Past. Can someone end the post-Affirmed Drought?

I'll Have Another - Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

In Blazing Saddles, there's a law book that Hedley Lamaar and Taggart look at for a legal precedent as part of the plot. "Haley vs. United States, Haley 7, United States 0; it CAN be done!" I wrote this note last year during the high expectation/bitter disappointment Triple Crown Campaign of I'll Have Another. Hopefully, I can update it this year with more optimism and better endings.

The Triple Crown not being won since 1978 is almost as ridiculous as that quote from that movie that titles this note, it's failed so many times. In my lifetime (the 90s/00s bids, as I was a fetus at the time of Sunday Silence's run), Haley represents the failed bids prior to I'll Have Another. US represents the successes since 11/26/1989. Since 1978 (1979's bid being the first since then), 11 have tried, 11 have came up short. Now we find out if I'll Have Another shall be #12 to win all three races or #12 to come up short. On June 10, 1978, Affirmed beat Alydar by a head to become the 11th Triple Crown winner and the 3rd Triple Crown winner in a 6-year span. Nine days later, Garfield was published in comic strips for the first time. I jokingly refer to the drought as the Curse of Garfield. 1978 is also the year of my sister's birth. She hasn't seen one, either. Hopefully, we see one on June 9th. I will now recap the failed bids since then, followed by what I think about I'll Have Another's bid.

The failed bids since 1978 [note--all of these failed bidders won 3-year-old champion in their years]:

Spectacular Bid (1979)--He was 2 year old champion in 1978, and later an older horse/Horse of the Year champion in 1980. His trainer, Bud Delp, was so confident in him winning the Derby, he was reported as telling racegoers to "Go Bet" on his horse. They'd have won if they listened, as 'Bid' won the Derby and later the Preakness. He stepped on a safety pin the morning of the [Belmont] race, putting his soundness to the test. He ran the race all right in that he was safe throughout the race. But he lost when his jockey was stupidly chasing speed horses, one of them being Golden Act, who ran 2nd. Coastal won the race, with Bid running 3rd. After the race, the jockey was switched to Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker. He never lost a race as a 4-year-old. Probably the best horse to not win the Crown the past 40 years. 0/1 since 1978.

Pleasant Colony (1981)--He won the first two legs from off the pace. On Belmont Day, he broke badly and had to try and win from dead last. He beat everyone...but 2 horses. Summing and Highland Blade beat him that day, though he was well clear of the 4th place horse. 3rd is good for a show bet, but not for the Triple Crown. A good horse, no doubt, but not a great one. 0/2 since 1978.

Alysheba (1987)--Entering the Derby, he only officially won his maiden race, but had crossed the line first more than that before being disqualified. He won the first two legs convincingly, making people think he'd avenge his dad--Alydar--in winning the Crown that Alydar lost to Affirmed. He lost a 3-way photo for 2nd that day, costing him a $1 million bonus for best overall performance in the Triple Crown. Bet Twice beat him soundly by 14 lengths. Later on, Alysheba would win 1988 Horse of the Year as a 4-year-old. The best horse of the past 25 years didn't do it, either. 0/3 since 1978.

Sunday Silence (1989)--This was the year I was born, though I was still in the womb at the running of these races. His rivalry with Easy Goer was akin to Affirmed/Alydar. Only difference being, Easy Goer won the Belmont by 8 lengths. Not only that, he [Easy Goer] ran the fastest "not Secretariat" Belmont ever. But Sunday Silence won the Breeders' Cup (BC') Classic that year, winning Horse of the Year. And was a legend in breeding in Japan. Even bred a Japanese Triple Crown winner that accomplished the feat in Japan unbeaten in 2005 (Deep Impact). But he had the misfortune of being as old as Easy Goer. 0/4 since 1978.

Silver Charm (1997)--The first Triple Crown bid of my lifetime. He won the first two in gutsy fashion. Had a good guy connection line. Owners were the Lewises, trainer was Bob Baffert--he just lost the '96 Derby by a nose, and Gary Stevens won 2 Derbies and a Belmont before. In 1998, he almost became the 3rd Dual Classic winner to win the BC' Classic. Watched at home with family that day. He lost to Touch Gold, a horse that just lost the Preakness (4th, beaten less than 2 lengths) after an awful trip. I joked that Silver Charm got too busy combing his mane for the winner's photo to win the race, but I know better that he was lucky to have the chance at the bid looking at Touch Gold's Preakness in retrospect. 0/5 since 1978.

Real Quiet (1998)--The unlikeliest of bidders. He was the #2 in the Baffert barn that year to Indian Charlie. Jockey was Kent Desormeaux, his 1st of 3 Derbies (and 1st of 2 Triple Crown tries). My late uncle picked him to win that year. We all wanted him to do it in 1998; I watched the Belmont at home and saw him at the Derby in person. He had a clear lead at the top of the stretch in the Belmont. Then Victory Gallop ran him down to win a "$5 Million photo" by a nose. Crushing. I cried for about 20 minutes after that. Really hated Victory Gallop for that, especially since he beat Favorite Trick, the winter-book Derby favorite that year in his Derby prep. Not VG's fault; Real Quiet was a horse that sold for under $20K in the auction ring. That he was less than a foot from being a Triple Crown winner shows that he wins the 'bang for the buck' award of the failed bidders. 0/6 since 1978.

Charismatic (1999)--My dad had him in the Derby (we were at that Derby) and Preakness. Same owners as Silver Charm, trained by D. Wayne Lukas--a legend, ridden by Chris Antley who was the Josh Hamilton of jockeys. Immense talent and past demons about to be redeemed by Charismatic. My dad and I watched at River Downs in Cincinnati. Then he fell short in the Belmont, running 3rd to Lemon Drop Kid (eventual 2000 Older Horse Champ) and Vision and Verse. Also got hurt in the Belmont, but lived to tell the tale and become a stallion and the 1999 Horse of the Year. This hurt worse than Real Quiet in many ways, as at least Real Quiet wasn't injured in the race. 0/7 since 1978.

War Emblem (2002)--Impressive winner of the first two legs that used his speed to win them both (gate-to-wire Derby, sat 2nd before overtaking in Preakness). Entered the Belmont as live as any of them with raw speed and talent; watched it at home. But he lost the race at the start, stumbling before rushing up to fade to 8th place. A bomb, Sarava, won the race at 70-1 odds. Medaglia d'Oro, a game horse that was an underachiever at that point, later won millions of dollars and sired (was the daddy of) Rachel Alexandra. Medaglia d'Oro was 2nd that year. This one hurt the least, as War Emblem got through the race healthy, even if soundly beaten. He also didn't get my hopes up as much as the other 3 did. 0/8 since 1978.

Funny Cide (2003)--He was a plucky underdog that won the first two jewels of the Crown. Also a gelding, meaning that he wouldn't retire immediately because of the money involved in breeding. Won by a ton in the Preakness, but he left it out on the track before the Belmont. Watched at home. That, and the 57 second workout at 5/8 of a mile the week of the race, sapped his energy. Two fresh horses, Empire Maker (Derby favorite) and Ten Most Wanted (Travers winner), beat him. My dad kept saying "he's [Funny Cide] going to lose" and he was right. I didn't react well to that, and I later saw "Bruce Almighty" at the theater that day. Showed that no matter the intention, can't get what you want from prayer all the time, and sometimes it's for the best, even if it hurts short-run. 0/9 since 1978.

Smarty Jones (2004)--The horse that towered over the rest of his fellow 3-year-olds. Ran through the races unbeaten headed to the Belmont Stakes. Won the Preakness by about 10 lengths. Which is like winning Game 6 of a 7 game series by 30 points. I thought he'd do it that year. Watched the race at Hoosier Park just north of Indianapolis that year. Had a lead in the stretch, but got ran down by Birdstone. Birdstone later won the Travers and he was a 2-year-old that failed to click at 3 before that day. Smarty Jones was subjected to a faster middle half-mile in the Belmont than Secretariat was (:48 for Secretariat; :46.79 for Smarty Jones). That eventually did him in that day. Crushed me to no end; I later threw up that night from eating too much and being emotionally down from the loss. 0/10 since 1978.

Big Brown (2008)--The horse that had no rival but himself going into the Belmont Stakes. He was a perfect 5/5 in his career entering the race. His main rival, Casino Drive, scratched the week of the race. It was an inside speed track and Big Brown had the #1 post. Seemed too good to be true. Well, it was. He ran last, not finishing the race that day. His owner and trainer were humbled for exaltation that day. A random 38-1 bomb, Da' Tara, won that day and Da' Tara never won another race. Big Brown won his 2 starts post-Derby, but retired too soon to foot problems, the same foot problems that plagued him in the Belmont. Watched it at Keeneland in disbelief at such an epic fail attempt. But at least he erased the doubt before the final 1/4 mile, unlike 1997-99 and 2004 did. 0/11 since 1978.

I'll Have Another (2012) and his career reflection since he is now retired: Now we get to 2012. The year I graduated college with a Bachelor's in Middle/Secondary Education-Social Studies. Big Brown went for it after I graduated high school. Smarty Jones went for it after I was promoted/graduated from 8th grade. Point Given, with a better effort in the 2001 Derby, might have won all 3 after I was promoted/graduated from 5th grade. These events seem to happen after graduations. Which means my masters' degree (and beyond, if I go beyond) will probably involve one lol. Anyway, now to get to I'll Have Another.

Here is an extended preview of what his chances to win the Triple Crown would have been, if healthy. (and with it, the Belmont [Stakes] on June 9th):

I'll Have Another (4/4 this year, 7-5-1-0 in his career)

Trained by Doug O'Neill, Jockey Mario Gutierrez, Won Preakness Stakes (5/19) and Kentucky Derby (5/5).

The whole controversy with the Doug O'Neill 45-day suspension and Paul Reddam--his owner--gaining a reputation as a loan shark for running CashCall, a high-risk loan company, didn't help, media-wise. He gave us a good ride all year, going 4/4 on the year. His Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins were sublime. Joins a group of three (Burgoo King, Bold Venture, and now I'll Have Another) who got hurt and withdrew from the Belmont Stakes. It was the right decision, but ouch for the dashed hopes...again. Not sure what God wants out of a Triple Crown winner. Were this Doctor Who, I'd get the TARDIS ready to see Secretariat's run just to know what it's like to see someone do it. Sure, I've seen a Canadian (Wando-2003) and Japanese (Deep Impact-2005) Triple Crown winner, and a horse called Camelot might do it in England this year to end a drought that's been around since my dad graduated high school in 1970. But it's not the same.

His mother had injury problems that made her retire early; her son suffered the same ending. It's like how Bulls fans felt after Derrick Rose went down with an ACL injury in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. It looked like they might end the post-Jordan drought, compared to I'll Have Another ending the Triple Crown drought. But both fell short to injury; at least Rose has another chance (or more). And there could be a Triple Crown winner sometime before I die; I'm only 22, after all. My dad was about my age for Secretariat's run. Who knows? But it doesn't end the world that it happened this way. Better that than a catastrophic injury on the scale of Charismatic, Barbaro, or Eight Belles. Though not a happy conclusion, better than one that feels like the dementor's kiss. It felt empty this afternoon upon finding out, but it was redeemed by a fine day at the Cengage company picnic with friends and going with my parents and my best friend to Keeneland the following day. Life goes on. To quote the late, great Andres Escobar from a guest column he wrote in 1994 after the 'own goal' game in the '94 World Cup, "Life doesn't end here." No worries; on to fight another day.

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