In the 1970s, in a space of just six years, three horses swept the Triple Crown. It’s been thirty-four years since the last horse did it. Why?
There are some obvious explanations that Andrew Beyer points out in his Washington Post article. Certainly the Triple Crown fields are bigger now, as owners and trainers respond to the increased media hype. In 1948, Citation raced against only nineteen horses in the three races combined. I’ll Have Another had to beat fifteen other horses just in the Derby alone.
Looming larger than all other factors, however, is the mile-and-a-half distance demanded by the Belmont. And the recent trend in breeding has been more for speed than endurance. Again, why?
According to Beyer, back in the days when Thoroughbred racing was dominated by generations of wealthy families, every Derby winner had an important one-and-a-half-mile runner somewhere in the first two generations of its pedigree. That’s no longer the case.
Today’s buyers don’t have the patience of the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys. Fast results are wanted, and with the popularity of auctions for two-year-olds-in-training, proven speed at an eighth of a mile sells horses. Thus stallions known to pass on speed are favored over those with staying power.
For further demonstration of this theory, consider this. If you had bet every starter in every Belmont Stakes Race in every one of the last fifteen years, you would have almost doubled your money. Long odds, short odds, it's a tossup!
Posted June 5, 2012