A Triple Crown With An Asterisk?

June 24, 2020

Tiz the Law captured a much-shortened Belmont Stakes with ease on June 20, starting talk of a unique Triple Crown in which the first race is run at a date in which all three races are typically completed, the longest race becomes the shortest, and the order of the races is all topsy-turvy. Jokes spread about no horse ever winning the Kentucky Derby after winning the Belmont.

Serious discussions have centered on whether this indeed will be a “true” Triple Crown if Tiz the Law manages to win all three jewels in this COVID-19-addled world. It isn’t the traditional Triple Crown that most horses have gone through – there will be a 10-week gap between the Belmont and the Kentucky Derby, and a month lapse between the Derby and the Preakness. The Belmont, usually called the Test of Champions at 1 1/2 miles, was barely a Derby prep race at 1 1/8 miles.

But Sir Barton won the Belmont Stakes when it was run at 1 3/8 miles and took the Preakness that same year when it was run at 1 1/8 miles (it used to be run at a distance as short as a mile and as long as 1 1/2 miles). The Preakness was run before the Derby 11 different times, and twice they were run on the same day. Sir Barton ran the Preakness Stakes before the Kentucky Derby. Yet he is still listed as the first Triple Crown winner, despite the different lengths and order.

But still, there’s this year’s Belmont. 1 1/8 miles. One turn. And all that time in between races. Is this still the grueling schedule that sidelined the Triple Crown hopes of Northern Dancer, Majestic Prince, Alysheba and Smarty Jones, the one that only 13 horses have managed to capture in 100 years?

The Quintuple Crown

One way Tiz the Law can silence the critics is to do what no horse has ever done – win the Triple Crown, the Travers Stakes and the Breeder’s Cup Classic in one year. There’s not even a name for that, although American Pharoah came close in 2015, winning the “Grand Slam” – the Triple Crown and Breeder’s Cup Classic. He finished second in the Travers, denying him the sweep of what is arguably the five biggest races of the year for 3-year-olds.

The Travers is August 8 – seven weeks after the Belmont, and trainer Barclay Tagg is aiming Tiz the Law toward that race at Saratoga. After that, the horse would have about a month to get ready for the Kentucky Derby on September 5, and then another month until the Preakness October 8. The Breeder’s Cup Classic will be run at Keeneland on Nov. 7. 

This sets up perfectly for Tiz the Law, who will be rested before each leg of the Quintuple Crown. Many critics point out that most Triple Crown winners had only five weeks between all three legs of the Triple Crown, and Tiz the Law gets an added advantage of more rest. Does that prove he’s a superhorse if he wins all three with at least a month’s preparation for each race?

More Space Equals More Competition

There are some in horse racing circles who are advocating for more time between the legs of the Triple Crown. The short space between the three races means some skip the Preakness to get ready for the Belmont Stakes; as a result, you have fresh horses going against a possible Triple Crown contender who is tired and getting ready to run a 1 1/2 mile race. 

Racing analysts argue that extra time off between the two races could make the three races even more competitive by not giving horses any excuse for skipping the Preakness. Each horse would have a legitimate shot at each race and would be as tired as the next horse. In essence, it might be even harder to win the Triple Crown with longer gaps between races. And given the fragility of the breed these days, with horses running less frequently and retiring earlier, it might not be a bad idea.

Of course, Honor A.P., Authentic, King Guillermo or some other horse may have other plans for Tiz the Law. Let’s run them and see what happens, and if Tiz the Law runs the tables, we’ll appreciate it. Even with an asterisk.

Photo credit: Susie Raisher/NYRA

Contributing Authors

Peter Lee

Peter is a  former journalist and  a horse racing historian. He is also the author of Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century.

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