Sunday, June 08, 2008

I'm A Triple Crown Jinx

Fans of Big Brown, you can blame me.

Like thousands of others across the country, I was glued to my television yesterday afternoon, hoping at long last to watch another horse win the coveted Triple Crown. But those hopes were dashed in a fashion even more cruel than normal, as Big Brown had nothing left for the long stretch drive and was pulled up, almost in "no mas, no mas" fashion by jockey Kent Desormeaux.

So why was it my fault? Well, I'm definitely a Triple Crown jinx. Despite having grown up in the seventies, which in retrospect was one of the two golden ages of Triple Crown racing (the other being the 1940s), I've never seen a horse close out the Triple Crown.

In 1973, when Secretariat ran the greatest race in the history of horse racing, I was in Ensenada, Mexico on a YMCA Caravan.

It's impossible for me to watch this without getting goose bumps. Chic Anderson's call was magnificent, particularly that moment as Secretariat entered the turn for home, and Anderson bellowed in amazement - having tracked the times - "He is moving like a tremendous machine!" It was, without question, one of the most amazing performances in the history of any sport. 35 years later, not only has no horse beaten Secratariat's Belmont record of 2:24, no horse has come even close to it. The horses that came in second and third behind Big Red, 31 lengths behind, would have won many Belmonts with their times. Such was Secretariat's dominance.

And then in 1977, when Seattle Slew pulled off the feat, I was working at McDonalds, as I did every Saturday from 7 until 3, and again missed the Belmont.

For some reason, I was not a big fan of Seattle Slew, for reasons that mostly escape me now. I think it had something to do with the arrogance of his trainer, and something dumb he'd been quoted as saying in Sports Illustrated.

In 1978, I was determined to see Affirmed try and close the deal, even though I was in Hawaii to celebrate my graduation from high school. But alas, I thought the race was going to be shown on tape delay, and they showed it live. 0-for-3, and in this case I only missed one of the most exciting stretch duels in history.

And as for the 1970s, it wasn't just about those three great horses. There were others that had a stab at greatness, and fell just short:

1971 - Canonero II went into the Belmont after dominating Derby and Preakness wins, but came down with an infection between the Preakness and Belmont, and had yet to fully recover. He finished fourth.

1972 - Riva Ridge won the Derby and Belmont, but couldn't handle the slop at Pimlico, and finished out of the money in the Preakness.

1974 - Little Current got caught in traffic in the Derby and came in fifth, but won resoundingly in both the Preakness and the Belmont.

1976 - Bold Forbes won the Derby and Belmont.

1979 - Spectacular Bid looked to become the third consecutive Triple Crown winner, but fell short in the Belmont. Naturally, I was watching that one.

Since then, I think I've been watching every single Belmont when a horse had a chance to become the 12th winner of the elusive Triple Crown. And every single time, failure. So yes, you can blame me. Next time a horse has a chance, I think I'll just go running.

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