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Teresa Genaro is a high school English teacher and freelance turf writer whose work has appeared in a variety of turf publications. A former and erstwhile resident of Saratoga Springs, she lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.

The Pursuit of the Triple Crown(s)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

American racing fans have been waiting a long time for a Triple Crown winner. We have come tantalizingly close so many times; since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, 11 horses have come to Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line, and 11 have walked off the track defeated. 

Yet still, we hope. We believe it can be done. It is part of our racing DNA to will home the Derby winner in the Preakness, and it is unthinkable for the winner of those two races to not continue on to the Belmont.

Three thousand miles to the east, hope does not spring quite so eternal. The English Triple Crown—the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger—was last won by Nijinsky in 1970, and only two horses since then (Nashwan in 1989 and Sea the Stars in 2009) have won the 2,000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby; neither contested the St. Leger.  Horses who win the 2,000 Guineas don’t even necessarily run in the Derby, and in this century, only seven horses have won all three races, five of them before 1920.  

But rather than this rarity whetting the British racing public’s appetite for another winner, the English Triple Crown is considered something of an anachronism. Here, the Triple Crown is racing’s highest accomplishment. There, it’s barely relevant.

According to Nick Godfrey, the international editor of the Racing Post, the English Triple Crown has fallen out of favor for multiple reasons: the three races are spread out over four months; they are at vastly different distances over vastly different courses; international competition from the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders’ Cup offers the temptation to avoid the final race in the series in September.

British racing broadcaster Nick Luck concurred. “There are a lot more competing attractions in terms of intrigue and value and international stud value,” he said. “Winning the St. Leger won’t add anything to a horse’s value.”

Yet, even as we contemplate the possibility of I’ll Have Another’s becoming this country’s 12th Triple Crown winner, there is talk abroad of, perhaps, for the first time in a long time, a horse setting his sights on all three English Classics. 

On the same day that I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby, Camelot (GB) (Montjeu (IRE)-Tarfah (Kingmambo)) won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, and according to  Godfrey, his connections are intimating, perhaps barely suggesting, a Triple Crown campaign. Camelot is owned by Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael Tabor.

“Derrick Smith said it might be nice to have a go at the Triple Crown,” said Godfrey. “I did an article for the Racing Post and he said that was vaguely interested in running in the St. Leger.” 

Despite Smith’s suggestion, neither Luck nor Godfrey is particularly sanguine about the British public seeing Camelot in the St. Leger. As each pointed out, he’s first got to win the Epsom Derby, in which he’ll be the favorite and which is run the same day as the Belmont. Beyond that? Said Godfrey, “I would be quite surprised.” Luck called it “a quasi-realistic chance.” 

Compare that to this country.  Imagine a Derby winner skipping the Preakness; imagine the Derby–Preakness winner bypassing the Belmont. Imagine the howls of outrage. Here, the pursuit of the Triple Crown is an obligation, an obligation to racing fans and to its history.

There? Not so much.

Luck pointed out that in England, no one outside the racing public much cares about a horse winning the Triple Crown. “A much sexier sell,” he said, “for those marketing racing, more eye-catching, would be Frankel taking on Black Caviar.” 

Godfrey sees it differently. “If Camelot were to run in the St Leger, everyone would get excited. It would be a massive talking point and would revive the Triple Crown in this country.” 

Still, he acknowledged, “The Triple Crown is a doff of a hat to tradition. It’s sad—it’s almost a curio here, where in the U.S. it’s the be-all and end-all.

“It’s just so outside the thinking of people these days, but the romantics among us want a Triple Crown winner.”
And that, at least, we have in common.

[Video] 2012 Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes - Camelot  - Click here to watch

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