The 2013 Belmont Stakes is still a few weeks away, but the outcome of the second leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday unfortunately diminishes the significance of one of horse racing's marquee showcases.
Hall of Fame tandem of trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens teamed up to push 15-to-1 long shot Oxbow to victory at the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. That thwarted a Triple Crown bid by Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who encountered traffic problems and finished in fourth.
The luster of the Triple Crown achievement is what drives casual interest in horse racing, which is unfortunate in a sense. As Courier-Journal contributor J.J. Hysell highlights, the competition could make for an exciting race:
Golden Soul and Revolutionary played second and third respectively at Churchill Downs, but unfortunately the majority of outside observers don't particularly care for also-rans in this industry.
When ESPN's Darren Rovell was asked earlier in the week about the potential impact an Orb loss would have for Belmont Park on June 8, the consequences were revealed to be dire:
The Run for the Carnations in Elmont, New York is a grueling 1.5 miles that tests the endurance and strength of the competing thoroughbreds.
Though Oxbow is considered more of a sprinter, Rick Snider of the Washington Examiner documented Stevens' comments after the race, which indicated he may have had even more in the tank with Oxbow:
Even with Lukas setting an all-time record with 14 Triple Crown victories and Stevens winning his third Preakness to match his three triumphs at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, the hype will be significantly diminished without horse racing's ultimate honor on the line.
An Orb victory would have boosted the sport's national relevance and profile for the Belmont Stakes and would have been a wonderful development for anyone who had an interest in the event.
Affirmed remains the last horse to win the Triple Crown in 1978, and that's bad news for those who were looking forward to witnessing a shot at history. There is nothing quite like a thrilling finish involving a premier horse chasing the Triple Crown and an upstart thoroughbred trying to deny him.
Belmont Stakes ratings were actually up by 13 percent last year from 2011, when I'll Have Another was bidding for the Triple Crown. However, he was scratched at the last minute, and that was part of the reason why viewers stuck around.
Betting is always a rush that comes with horse racing, but the decreased significance brought on by Orb's letdown is going to cause ratings to drop from their encouraging upward trend of 2012.