Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas
It’s hard to believe that I’m writing this, given the recent history of Triple Crown losers (Smarty Jones being the latest in a long list), but it seems that Big Brown winning the Triple Crown is almost a foregone conclusion. With a trainer who is hard to root for and ownership that, one would hope, would be a little cooler on the precipice of fame (because of the horse, of course), lots of people are actually rooting against Big Brown in the Belmont on Saturday.
But coming off one of the greatest Derby wins ever (four or five wide around both turns and then winning for fun) and a Preakness that turned out to be almost a training mile once jockey Kent Desormeaux flipped the switch at the top of the stretch, it’s hard to see who can beat Big Brown. Frankly, as of right now, this is a pretty bad group of three-year-olds (other than Big Brown).
Casino Drive, you say? Unlikely, even though his dam is the mother of the last two Belmont winners, one of the most stunning feats in the history of breeding. But his win in the Peter Pan was just OK and he would have to step up plenty (while Big Brown has to bounce tremendously) for Casino Drive to win. Speed horse Tale of Ekati, loose on the lead, you say? Unlikely, since, to cut a mile-and-a-half race, even loose on the lead, is a tremendously difficult thing to do, especially with a horse of Big Brown’s ability near you. My personal favorite for second, Denis of Cork, you say? Unlikely, because you’re talking about a nice horse against a star.
Understand this: there’s simply no Alydar to 1978’s Triple Crown winner Affirmed. Frankly, there doesn’t even seem to be a Sham to 1973’s Secretariat, still the greatest horse ever (just check his Triple Crown times) (and remember, the reason Secretariat won the Belmont by 31 lengths was because Sham’s jockey was told to run with Secretariat early to try and break his heart – of course, the only heart broken in that race was Sham’s).
Now, assuming what seems to be almost inevitable (unless maybe his quarter crack acts up during the race, a possible but unlikely scenario) actually happens, the bigger question for the sport of horse racing is this: will a Triple Crown winner really jump start horse racing as a sport in the 21st Century? Unfortunately, the answer here is no.
You’ve heard it a number of times over the last decade: the sport “really needs” a Triple Crown winner. But, if it happens, that’s going to be just a temporary boost to the game. Horse racing has always been a great sport but a very tough business. For every great Derby winner story, there are thousands and thousands of tales of heartbreak.
Like it or not, for the general public, horse racing has really been reduced to the Triple Crown races (and the Belmont is huge, unfortunately, only if there’s a chance at a Triple Crown winner) and the Breeders Cup. There’s really not that much else for the casual fan.
The temporary boost (other than a one or two day Triple Crown-winning boost) will occur if the connections of Big Brown decide to race him once or twice more. If he’s an undefeated Triple Crown winner, they will be under enormous pressure to stop with him immediately (his value as a sire will be already through the roof if he wins the Belmont). There’s very little upside to racing him again (although beating Curlin in a proposed $5 million Massachusetts Handicap or Breeders Cup race would increase his astronomical value even more).
But that’s an awful big gamble for a horse who has raced three times in five weeks and has a foot problem to boot. The wise decision will be to retire him after the Triple Crown, but maybe ego (of his connections, not him) or belief that he’s the greatest horse ever (not possible) will change that decision. We’ll see.
The gambling landscape has changed so drastically in the last three decades that horse racing, once the only (legal) game in town, is now an afterthought for most people with a little money to spend. You know the other competitors: the lottery (it seems like 500 different games from state to state) and the casinos (sprouting up everywhere, including slots all over New York and Pennsylvania with enormous pressure on New Jersey to do the same) and even OTB, still apparently, losing money in New York (hard to believe, but apparently true).
Frankly, it’s more important for racetracks to get slot machines (oops, I mean video gaming machines, slot machines (I think) are still illegal – ha-ha) than to have a Triple Crown winner. At Yonkers Raceway in the harness racing game, the installation of 5,300 video gaming machines has totally revamped the purse structure so better horses and top trainers and drivers are somewhat lured to a place that most avoided for many years due to a poor purse structure (purses have climbed through the roof at Yonkers).
If it’s all about the money (and for your everyday horseman, with rare exceptions, it is) higher purses (through, for example, video gaming machines at Aqueduct and/or Belmont) is the biggest boost horse racing can receive in the near future.
But remember, as you’re cheering (for or against) Big Brown on Saturday, the problems of a once dominant industry don’t disappear when the 150,000 in the crowd at Belmont go home. Come Monday, the problems will still be there and everywhere that horsemen go to work. Here’s hoping a revival can take place sooner rather than later.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.