A Horse, of Course
with Don Blazer
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Will there ever be another Triple Crown winner?
The opportunity is always there; but it may be "opportunities" that keep it from happening.
I thought there would be a Triple Crown winner this year, but alas, I was wrong. I was wrong for being so right about "opportunities" in modern horse competition.
I bet Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby for two reasons…first I thought he was the best horse. Secondly, now that I am a true, for sure Texan myself, I was positive Carl Nafzger, a Texan, would be the trainer who could do what hasn't been done for 29 years. (The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978).
Street Sense won the Derby by 2.5 lengths, and then lost by a head to Curlin in the Preakness. Curlin finished third in the Derby. Hard Spun was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness; so three horses dominated the first two jewels.
So why am I asking if there will ever be another Triple Crown winner when three horses were so close to winning the first two races? Because a fourth horse, Rags to Riches, a filly who did not run in the first two legs, won the Belmont after a stretch dual with Curlin.
Rags to Riches is a very nice horse-exceptional. But then so is Street Sense and so is Curlin and so is Hard Spun.
Now a horse that probably shouldn't have won all three Triple Crown races, but did, was a Texan. Assault won the Triple Crown in 1946.
Assault, bred by the King Ranch, was an "also ran" in his first race and several others, often finishing far behind. He won only twice in his first year of racing…but won the three most important races of any three-year-old's career. So was he a great horse, or was it just an "opportunity" seized?
King Ranch owner Robert Kleberg was a cattleman who started breeding Quarter Horses in the 1920s, and Thoroughbreds in the 1930s. He purchased Assault's sire, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Bold Venture in 1939.
As a foal, Assault stepped on a surveyor's stake, piercing his right front foot. The foot healed, but was deformed, making it difficult to shoe. Assault walked and trotted with a distinct limp, but never showed signs of a problem when running. In addition to the bad foot, Assault also had a bad kidney, splints, a wrenched ankle, an injured knee and he was a bleeder.
At maturity, Assault had a small frame, was barely 15 hands and weighed less than 1,000 pounds.
He won the 1946 Kentucky Derby by eight lengths. Won the Preakness by a nose, because jockey Warren Mehrtens conceded he asked the horse for his maximum effort too soon.
In the Belmont Assault stumbled out of the gate, lagged behind most of the race, then blew by his competition down the stretch to win by three lengths.
According to Margaret Buranen, who writes about race horses, Assault was given a chocolate/vanilla cake (brown and white stable colors) to celebrate his victory…Assault ate it all without sharing.
Two years later, Citation won the Triple Crown, then Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.
Close, but no Cigar since. There were five close misses in the last 8 years.
Why? "Opportunities! There were great horses in the old days…but the competition wasn't nearly so keen, and great horses didn't travel so far just because an opportunity suddenly presented itself.
Rags to Riches ran in the Belmont when Nafzger decided to give Street Sense a rest. The filly's connections saw the opportunity and took it.
I think today's great horses face more than just other great horses. Competition in the horse world today-western pleasure to barrels to jumpers to trail--means not only out performing other horses, it means out performing other great horses seizing the "opportunities."
Any horse running in the Triple Crown races will hear "knocking at the door."
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