Belmont Stakes this year.
Why? WHY? Are you
***Warning: Slight Horse-Geekiness to follow***
Just to jog your memory, the Triple Crown is a trilogy of races, the pinnacle of American horse racing, and perhaps the most prestigious honor in the entire sports world, human and animal. Seriously. Winning the Triple Crown is a bigger achievement than any of the victories of Michelle Kwan, Michael Phelps, or Michael Jordan (not to knock any of them). It's just that the Triple Crown is THAT HARD. And you only get ONE shot. The Olympics? Comes around every four years. Most great athletes get two, if not three, chances to strut their stuff.
Horses only get to compete for the Crown once, as three-year-olds.
The Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby (held the first Saturday in May), the Preakness Stakes (held two weeks later), and the Belmont (three weeks after that). As a set of three races, the Crown has been run since 1875, during which only 11 horses have ever clinched the title of Triple Crown Winner. Eleven. And it's been 34 years since the last one (Affirmed in 1978).
Which means, there hasn't been a Triple Crown Winner during my lifetime.
It's not for lack of trying. There have been several near misses since I watched my first Kentucky Derby (and it's two counterparts) in 1992 as an awe-struck pre-teen. These were teasers really--horses would win the first two legs, but couldn't quite make it in the Belmont. Some of these horses I was really exited about; others, I could care less about, but I just wanted to SEE a horse win the Triple Crown.
This year, I watched the Kentucky Derby, hopeful as ever, for a star horse. An earth-bound Pegasus who would fly through the Triple Crown races to a triumphant victory. A couple of gorgeous grays, Creative Cause and Hanson, caught my eye (I have a weakness for grays and roans), as did the favorite, Union Rags. I am not a gambler. I don't bet, but I do like to handicap races. After watching the Derby prep races (races horse have to win or place in to really have a shot at running in the Derby), I picked my five favorites--the horses I wanted to win, and then horses I expected to win. One of them was a gangly, slightly awkward looking chestnut. He wasn't as pretty as the grays, nor as powerfully built as Union Rags the favorite. But he had good bloodlines and something about him made me include him in my list of expected winners. He was my choice for a sleeper who would come from behind and snag the win away from everyone's favorites: Union Rags and Bodemeister.
This horse was I'll Have Another. And he won the Derby. By a length and a half (just over the length of his body). The commentators and many professional handicappers didn't seem all that impressed. Going into the Preakness, two weeks later, Bodemeister, the second-place winner in the Derby, was the favorite to win. He's a great horse in his own right, but I felt oddly tugged to root for the under-dog winner, I'll Have Another. I wanted him to win. My other writer, horse-crazy friend, Cossette, and I decided we really liked the three horses that placed in the Derby, and so we'd root for them again. Wouldn't it be funny if they finished the in same order, we laughed.
Yeah. We weren't disappointed. The same three horses, (I'll Have Another, Bodemeister, and Creative Cause) finished in the exact same order as they had in the Derby. It was like watching the Derby all over again, except I'll Have Another edged out Bodemeister by a neck this time--impressive considering that the Preakness is a shorter race than the Derby and thus, harder for a late-closer like I'll Have Another to win.
And now we're on to the Belmont. The longest of the three races. And the hardest. I'll Have Another will have to face not only Bodemeister (again), but also a couple of strong competitors from the Derby who sat out the Preakness--Dullahan and Union Rags. Either of them could snatch away the chance of a Triple Crown winner. But I'll Have Another has heart. He's got passion. He WANTS to race. He WANTS to win. Not that the other horses don't--he just wants it more.
And this is why you should watch the Belmont Stakes on Saturday evening, June 9, on NBC between 5-7pm EST. (Go back and watch the Derby and Preakness online first--they're only a couple minutes long each). Watch the Belmont because it'll be an exciting race whoever wins. Watch it and remember why you fell in love with horses as a little girl. Watch it and fall in love all over again, this time with a winner with heart.