One of the most controversial Triple Crowns in history

June 29, 2021

The Triple Crown; it is the pinnacle of American Horseracing, and a series of races that is watched by many across the globe. It takes place over three separate races, on three separate courses, with each leg being week’s apart to allow the horses some rest.

This year though has been one of the most controversial in the Triple Crown’s long and illustrious history. And it wasn’t to do with the usual protests by a few who turn up at these events protesting about horse racing being cruel to the animals. But before we go into why it was controversial, let’s explain the setup for those not in the know.

The Triple Crown races

First up in the Triple Crown races is the Kentucky Derby, also known as The Run for the Roses. This race takes place on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The race is run over a distance of 1 ¼ miles, or 10 furlongs/2,000 metres. 

Next up we have the Preakness Stakes, nicknamed The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans. The Preakness takes place two weeks after the Derby on the third Saturday of May, at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. A slightly shorter race, Preakness sees the colts, geldings and fillies racing over a distance of 1 3/16 miles, or 9/5 furlongs/1,900 metres.

The final race is the Belmont Stakes, known as The Test of the Champion. This race takes place on the third Saturday following the Preakness Stakes, usually making it the first or second Saturday in June. The race takes place at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, and is the longest race of the Triple Crown at 1 ½ miles, or 12 furlongs/2,400 metres.

Now that you know the format of the Triple Crown, let us get into the controversy that surrounded it this year.

Off to a rocky start

Going into the Kentucky Derby, it was Essential Quality who was 2/1 favourite with sportsbooks such as Fox Bet to win the race. But in a huge upset, after a rocky start, it could only muster a fourth place finish. But the horse wasn’t the only rocky start, the tournament as a whole didn’t get off so well either, after eventual winner Medina Spirit was disqualified for failing a drugs test.

It was contested at the time, with Medina Spirit’s owner and trainer putting it down to being related to medication to do with a recovering injury. Which may well have been the case, but no one except those who gave the steroids to the horse will know the true intentions.

But the controversy didn’t stop there. Because whilst the trainer was banned from having any involvement in horse racing again, authorities allowed Medina Spirit to continue to be involved in the Triple Crown races. A strange turn of events considering the harsh punishments dished out to others involved.

And it would take place in the Preakness Stakes, with many wondering if it could perform as it did in the Derby without the help of performance enhancing drugs. It turns out it couldn’t quite finish the same way, although Medina Spirit did finish in a respectable 3rd place.

It was then that the appeal for the bans was overruled, and Medina Spirit ended up not being able to compete at all in the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. Instead, it was the original favourite of the Derby, Essential Quality who was again 2/1 to win, that ended up crossing the finish line first in the final race.

Source: Coady Photography

No overall winner

Whilst Essential Quality’s performance in the first race wasn’t fantastic to say the least, the decision not to exclude Medina Spirit from the standings was a foolish one to some. As the standings could’ve been corrected. As such, they weren’t and Medina Spirit was allowed to continue racing.

If the horse had gone on to also win the Preakness, then it would have been possible for it to be only the 14th horse in Triple Crown History to be able to win all three races had it triumphed at Belmont. That would not have happened though as the horse was eventually fully disqualified and not allowed to race in the final leg.

If it had been removed earlier, and standings adjusted, it could well have given someone the chance to win the Triple Crown by claiming all three titles. But the decision not to will have cost someone of that chance, and so now, there will be no overall winner of the Triple Crown.

Although that’s not uncommon in reality anyway. As stated above, there have only been 13 horses who managed to win all three races, and there hasn’t been one since 2018, when Justify managed the feat. But, maybe that could all change next year, when hopefully we’ll have a series of races just as exciting, but minus the controversy.

Photo: NYRA Photo, Coglianese Photos

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