Tag Archives: TRIPLE CROWN



Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas – While the focus was correctly on California Chrome as he attempted to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, it was Tonalist who ran an unbelievable mile-and-a-half race to just beat out … Continue reading

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Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas – The buzz in New York is palpable as California Chrome will try and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.  The city is not going totally crazy over this event (as 11 … Continue reading

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                                                             Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas    

It’s the forever question in horse racing:  What happened?  And, with horses who can’t talk and with tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) of dollars at stake in stud fees, even the most experienced jockeys and trainers often seem to be at a loss for an explanation.

Here are a few possibilities:

1)      Jockey Kent Desormeaux shut off Big Brown’s air in the beginning of the race:  While most experts said post one wouldn’t be a problem, the reality was that, even in a short field, Big Brown could and did have some traffic problems early in the race.  Clearly the horse was rank (hard to handle because he wanted to go on early).  The result of that can be briefly shutting a horse’s wind off, where he’s unable to catch his breath briefly, which results in his not racing well.  And even if the horse “scoped clean,” as was reported, when a horse has his wind shut off briefly, that doesn’t necessarily show up on a scope (vet sticks a tube down the horse’s throat after the race to look at the area for signs of bleeding or mucus or redness, etc.).

2)      What about that quarter crack?  While Desormeaux said the horse wasn’t lame, he was drifting out from the moment the gate opened, through the first turn and frankly, for a large part of the race.  Any vet will tell you that one cause of a horse running out (to his right) could be soreness on the left side (the now-famous quarter crack was on the left side).  Conversely, if a horse is running in (towards the rail), that can often be a sign of right side injury or soreness.  Remember, just because a horse isn’t limping, that doesn’t mean he’s not sore.  Something could have just been “pinching” Big Brown and that could have been enough to cause him to run poorly.   

3)      Big Brown got dirt in his face early:  You’ll recall that much was made in the Derby and Preakness about Desormeaux taking Big Brown to the outside to avoid having dirt hit him in the face, something that apparently had never happened to Big Brown before.  Well, again from post one, some dirt had to hit him in the face until either Desormeaux pulled him to the outside or Big Brown pulled Desormeaux to the outside (it’s not clear which happened).  When dirt hits some horses in the face and they’re not use to it, it can cause them to not try as hard as they normally would.

4)      The mile-and-a-half was just too much for Big Brown:  This will be the weakest of possible explanations.  Big Brown was in trouble going into the final turn.  He was done long before the extra quarter-mile that is the (stupid) distance for the Belmont.  Remember, horses don’t race that distance on dirt before the Belmont and horses don’t race that distance on dirt after the Belmont.  It’s something that should be looked at, but that’s for another time.

5)      The 95 degree heat:  Some horses don’t like the heat.  This is probably the hottest it’s ever been in Big Brown’s limited racing career on race day.  It certainly could have hurt him on Belmont day.


6)      THREE RACES IN FIVE WEEKS:  Kent Desormeaux said it best: “He was just out of gas.”  This wasn’t a horse who got beat in the final strides like Smarty Jones did in 2004 (and congratulations to the giant-killer, trainer Nick Zito, who beat Smarty Jones with Birdstone in 2004 and beat Big Brown on Saturday with outsider Da’ Tara).  This was a horse who was done around the final turn.  While this was a topic of a recent article in this space (see Kallas Remarks, 5/16/08), it seems to be gaining support in the racing mainstream.  Just last week, legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas called for the Triple Crown races to be more spread apart, with the Travers being the “fourth leg” of the Triple Crown (called the “Grand Slam” by some).  Horses today simply are not bred or trained to race three times in five weeks.  And this year’s Belmont may be the best proof of all of that.




Because of the arrogance of the trainer, many people are happy that Big Brown got beat.  But don’t penalize the horse for the arrogance of the trainer, even though I agree with trainer David Carroll’s statement (he finished second with Denis of Cork): “I’ve always thought you should win with class and you should lose with class” (as reported by Mike Vaccaro in the New York Post).  Amen to that, although we live in a different world today.


The owners have a tough call now.  If they race Big Brown again, and he loses, then his value plummets.  However, if it was three races in five weeks (as I and others suspect), and he rests up and returns for, say, the Travers in late August at Saratoga and wins, then we may have the answer to what happened. 


But that’s a gazillion dollar gamble.  Like many before him, Big Brown is just another in the long list of horses who failed to get it done.  Between him and Smarty Jones, it now seems impossible to do, for whatever reason.




Here’s hoping that the powers-that-be in thoroughbred racing see the obvious and change the timing (and review the distances as well) of the Triple Crown races.  As suggested previously, the first Saturday in May (Derby), the first Saturday in June (Preakness) and the first Saturday in July (Belmont) is the ideal schedule in the 21sr Century.  Thoroughbred racing should enter this century sooner rather than later.     




© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 


                                                                            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. 





                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   


Once upon a time, three-year-old thoroughbred horses would race frequently and, while it was a difficult thing to race three times in five weeks (Kentucky Derby first Saturday in May, the Preakness two weeks later, the Belmont three weeks after that), it wasn’t absurd, stupid or dangerous.  Many horses would routinely “dance every dance,” taking their shot at horse-racing immortality.  In the 1970s, Triple Crown winners were frequent (1973 — Secretariat, 1977– Seattle Slew, 1978 – Affirmed).


But that was then; this is now.  With no Triple Crown winner in 30 years, and even with a realistic chance that Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown can do it this year, it’s .simply stupid to expect them to go to the post three times in five weeks to race at distances they have never raced at before and, in the case of the mile-and-a-half Belmont, will never race at again.


Don’t take my word for it.  The Preakness, in the last decade or so, has simply become a prep for the Kentucky Derby winner to take his shot at the Triple Crown.  In the “old” days, six or eight or ten Derby starters would come back to take their shot at the Derby winner in the Preakness two weeks later.  Not anymore.  In this year’s race, other than Big Brown, there is only one horse (out of 19) coming back from the Derby to try his luck in the Preakness, and that’s speed horse Gayego, who finished 17th in the Derby, some 36 lengths back (some would say he didn’t even race in the Derby off that performance).  Frankly, that’s the trainers and owners of Derby losers telling us that it’s preposterous to race three times in five weeks in the 21st Century.




Today, you are pretty much doing a disservice to your good, young three-year-old if you send him (there probably won’t be any hers for a long time after Eight Belles broke both her ankles right after the Derby and had to be put down on the track) out to race three times in five weeks.  The Derby winner pretty much has to do it, because a Triple Crown winner today is probably worth an additional $40 million or so if he can get the job done.


Do horses get hurt racing three times in five weeks when, generally speaking, good horses today rarely race more than once every four to six weeks?   Well, that’s pretty much an unanswerable question in a sport where a horse can break a sesamoid bone, for example, by simply taking a bad step out of his stall.   


But in 2006, Barbaro had raced five weeks before the Derby (he paid $14 as an undefeated Derby winner because no horse in over 50 years had raced his last race more than four weeks before the Derby and won the Derby).  But then, in the Preakness, a pass race from a gambling perspective (as is this year’s Preakness because Big Brown will be a no-value, heavy favorite), Barbaro broke down and, after months of trying to save him, had to be put down.  Interestingly, Barbaro had only raced twice in 13 weeks prior to the 2006 Derby.  While nobody can ever say with certainty that Barbaro broke down in the Preakness because he came back to race 14 days after the Derby (rather than having five or eight weeks off between races as he had previously done in early 2006), the truth is nobody will ever know for sure.


Which brings us back to 2008.  Big Brown, beating another long-believed Derby no-no of having only three lifetime starts before winning the Derby (that hadn’t happened in something like 80 years), will come back just two weeks later to try and win the second leg of the Triple Crown.  He should do it (there’s not much competition), but the good horses now lay in wait for the Belmont, three weeks after the Preakness.




Here’s a simple but realistic schedule for the Triple Crown in the 21st Century:  Kentucky Derby, first Saturday in May, Preakness, first Saturday in June, Belmont, first Saturday in July.  Throw in the Travers at Saratoga (late in August) and you have a perfect four-race program for any real good three-year-old in the world.




Of course, if you follow horse racing, you can hear the traditionalists screaming: “this is how it’s been done for over 100 years, horses should dance every dance, it takes a special horse to win the Triple Crown” and on and on and on.


But let’s take a look at pitchers in baseball.  Up until the late 1960s and into the 1970s, pitchers took the ball with three days of rest and started about 40 games a year.  That changed in the ‘70s and ‘80s to pitchers taking the ball with four days of rest and, today, starting about 34 games a year.  Not only that, but you baseball fans know that starting pitchers rarely come out for the eighth or ninth innings – the complete game, with rare exceptions, is on the verge of becoming extinct.  Few people know what a complete game looks like. 


Like the horse-racing traditionalists, the baseball traditionalists bemoan the fact that pitchers “aren’t tough anymore,’ that they don’t “suck it up anymore’ and go out for the eighth or ninth inning.  Of course, if you know baseball, you know that we are much closer to the five-inning starter than we are to a return of the nine-inning starter.


So the analogy is this:  To have horses race three times in five weeks in the 21st Century would be like making major league pitchers pitch every fourth day in the 21st Century, a stupid and dangerous (to pitchers’ arms) thing to put into play.  So, too, to make these horses run distances they have never run before and, in the case of the Belmont, a distance they will never run again, would be like making today’s pitchers (whatever one may think of their “toughness”) pitch complete games no matter how tired they might be in the eighth or ninth inning.  Hopefully, you get the point.


While tradition in horse racing (and many other things) should be respected and honored, there has to be a common sense approach to how it really is today.  That common sense approach, in thoroughbred racing, would be to space the Triple Crown races at least a month apart.  That way, more horses could “dance every dance” and, at least arguably, less horses will be put at risk of serious or fatal injury.           



© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.