Andy Serling has been playing the horses for almost his entire life, and is currently the co-host of NYRA Live. To follow Andy on Twitter, click here.
Will thirteen finally be the lucky number? Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, 12 horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to fail to win the Belmont Stakes. Included in that list is Spectacular Bid, arguably one of the best thoroughbreds to ever compete, along with other tremendous talents like Alysheba, Sunday Silence, and the extremely popular Smarty Jones. Yet, for a variety of reasons, none of these have been successful, despite each being a favorite, some very heavy favorites, in the Belmont Stakes. Every hopeful has been greeted with the omnipresent question of whether or not it is worthy of racing immortality. Even Spectacular Bid’s attempt was met with questions of whether or not the Triple Crown had become too easy, given that there were two straight winners, and three over the prior six years. While I have heavily debated in the past about the relative “worthiness” of each hopeful, and perhaps I am just getting soft in my advancing years, but I now believe that we have reached a point where any horse that is somehow able to grab this elusive brass ring has proven his deserving inclusion in an exclusive group that includes the likes of Count Fleet, Secretariat, Citation, Seattle Slew, Gallant Fox, and Affirmed.
While I saw Slew and Affirmed race, and yes they were true greats in an era where that word is bandied about far too easily, I was neither around for any of the others, nor can I confirm the true overall talents of any of them. Many cynics were not overly impressed with Seattle Slew’s talents when he was winning the three Triple Crown races, and it was only in the Fall of his 4YO season that some felt we saw his true greatness. Obviously all of these horses, the Triple Crown winners, were not of equal value. I imagine a gathering of racing historians would create some interesting arguments about their relative talents. However, it has become abundantly clear ( at least to me ) that to achieve this goal, especially in modern times, has become such an improbable feat, that to deny a winner deserving racing immortality would be, at best, an unfair criticism.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not willing to attach immediate greatness to a horse simply ( OK, maybe simply isn’t the right word ) because he ( or she ) wins the Triple Crown. However, I am now ready to concede that time has proven that the difficulty in winning all three races in five weeks is so extreme that even some greats have been unable to do it, and by that very fact, any horse that does achieve the feat, belongs alongside the other immortal winners of this series. Thus begs the question, will California Chrome add his name to a list that includes Citation, Secretariat, and Count Fleet…..or is he only good enough to belong with Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Silver Charm, and Sunday Silence?