Thursday, June 7, 2012

Here comes Big Red

I'll Have Another goes for the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, and Frank Deford makes a reasonable case as to why we should hope he doesn't become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.

This is the longest stretch we've ever gone between Triple Crown winners; I came of age during the previous stretch, which ran 25 years - between Citation and Secretariat.  The mythos that built up as we saw horse after horse try and fail to win the Crown - Kauai King, Forward Pass, Canonero II - became incredibly compelling theater. In each of those years the governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, would show up at Belmont Park with the Triple Crown trophy, which after the heartbreaking failure would be packed away for at least another year, waiting for the next superhorse.

As I say, the drama was immense, and each year that the Crown remained unclaimed, each time another contender appeared at Belmont's post, it became moreso. You'd think, as Deford suggests, it would be even better for the sport for the buildup to continue. And yet, could there have been anything more compelling than the sight of Secretariat storming down the stretch in 1973, headed for the finish line and immortality?

We thought, after seeing this, that perhaps we'd never see anything like him again.  Then we had two more Triple Crown winners (Seattle Slew and Affirmed) during the decade of the 70s, and some might have thought maybe it wasn't such a big deal after all.

But as Saturday approaches, we remember the horses that have failed since Affirmed (11, or roughly one every three years), and we remember the world and race records that Secretariat set, and the way he set them, and the 31 lengths from first to second place in that 1973 Belmont Stakes.  And then we go back to the video for another look, to see if it really could have happened that way .
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