Let’s bring together a bunch of 3-year-old horses — 20 sounds like a nice, round number — to run a mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. This will be their first time racing at that distance, with that many animals around them, so it should be interesting. Just for fun, we’ll encircle the track with a throng of 150,000 screaming fans.
Then, we’ll take the best of the bunch to Baltimore two weeks later, shorten up the race a smidgen while making the horses navigate a course with tighter turns, just to liven things up a bit. Finally, after giving the weary animals three whole weeks off, we’ll bring them back one more time for the longest race of their lives, a grueling mile and a half in the spotlight of New York City.
Try pitching that idea to a gathering of modern-day owners and trainers.
“Everybody would get up and walk out of the room,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas quipped Friday, standing outside a barn at Pimlico Race Course. “They would all say, ‘You’re out of your mind.’ You couldn’t sell that to anyone.”
Of course, those three races — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes — have all been around for more than a century. They’ve called it the Triple Crown since around 1930, a fittingly grandiose title for the biggest prize in the sport of kings — and, quite possibly, the toughest feat in all of sports.
There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 (pictured above), and the 29-year drought since one of these magnificent animals pulled off the ultimate three-peat is the longest in the sport’s history.
During that same period, the Chicago Bulls won three straight NBA titles, then did it again. And don’t forget the Los Angeles Lakers, who won three in a row, too. The New York Yankees took every World Series from 1998 through 2000. In the year of Affirmed, the Montreal Canadiens captured the third of four consecutive Stanley Cup titles. The New York Islanders followed suit with four straight titles of their own.
All we’re talking about here is one horse winning three straight races in a little more than a month. Come on, is it really that hard?
Yep, it is.