Ever since Affirmed nipped Alydar by a nose in the 1978 Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown, the horse racing world has been looking for another hero to claim the three races that define three-year olds.
The year after Affirmed secured his place in history, Spectacular Bid fell short of capturing the Triple Crown by finishing third in the Belmont Stakes. Many believe that Bid's attempt failed either because of a safety pin that became lodged in the colt's hoof or that jockey Ronnie Franklin gassed the horse early in the race.
Still, there was sure to be another Triple Crown winner. Except that there hasn't been. Pleasant Colony won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 1981, but finished third in the Belmont by one and a half lengths to Summing. In 1987, Alysheba held off Bet Twice in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before his arch-rival romped to a 14-length win in the Belmont.
Many other horses have since won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, namely Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), and Big Brown (2008), only to have their hopes dashed in New York. Big Brown finished dead last in the Belmont as 38-1 long shot Da' Tara (a horse that Big Brown had beaten by 23.5 lengths in the Florida Derby) emerged as the spoiler.
The point is that winning the Triple Crown is near impossible despite the media hype and hope which is why there has only been 11 winners in 134 years.
Which brings us to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. Jockey Calvin Borel has already gone on record with his belief that his horse can and will win the Triple Crown. Calvin, while I know that you are excited (and should be) about winning your third Kentucky Derby in four years, let's look at just five reasons why you and Super Saver are a longer shot to complete the Triple Crown than Da' Tara was to win the Belmont.
Three races in six weeks is a grind. Just ask Smarty Jones, who had to retire after injuries sustained in the grueling 1.5 mile Belmont. There will be fresh horses who will enter the Preakness and the Belmont and have been bred and guided specifically for these races, while Super Saver will have been shipped from one track to the next.
Horses mature as time goes on. Many horses aren't even close to reaching their peak performance early in the year as a three year old. As the year goes on or often as four and five year olds, different horses emerge and 'hit their stride' as the poor cliche suggests.
For example, there was Risen Star who in 1998 finished third in the Kentucky Derby. Two weeks later he won the Preakness Stakes by 1.5 stakes. However, the son of Secretariat finally showed his legendary genes and true greatness in the Belmont in winning by 14.5 lengths and in the third fastest time in history.
Borel may be a rail-riding specialist but it doesn't necessarily work for all three races. Borel has claimed that the home of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs is very close in dimension and design to the Delta Downs track in Louisiana where he became a professional. In particular, the Belmont is bigger and its dimensions make it harder to hug the rail. A decrease in the amount of competitors (there are typically fewer entries for the Belmont) will also likely mean plenty of space to run for most if not all the horses.
Other jockeys, trainers, and even horse owners will want to stop Borel and Super Saver's quest for horse racing immortality at all costs. It could be jealously, being bothered by Borel's bravado, or just natural competitive fire, but bet that as badly as horse racing might need a Triple Crown winner, the people (and the for that matter the horses) involved in the upcoming races aren't going to just give it away.
Consider the following quote from jockey Kent Desormeaux, after Borel boasted before the Belmont last year that he would become the first jockey to win the Triple Crown on two different horses. "He should keep those things to himself, just ask Big Brown," Desormeaux (who was Big Brown's jockey and blamed for the horse's poor performance in the Belmont) said. By the way, Borel finished third on Mine That Bird after his prediction.
Super Saver is not a special horse. Certainly, I'll change my mind if he somehow wins the Triple Crown, but he won the Kentucky Derby in the slop without a clear favorite in the field and in average fashion (2.5-length margin of victory). Odds on favorite Eskendereya was scratched earlier in the week and later retired due to a a leg injury).
More importantly, this was just Super Saver's third victory in seven starts. Two victories and a second place have occurred on wet surfaces. I guess it could rain for the next two legs of the Triple Crown, but don't break out the umbrellas just yet. Maybe the horse is emerging at the right time as Borel claims but we haven't seen any show of dominance yet.
The bottom line is that while much of America would like to see a Triple Crown winner desperately (myself included), save your hopes for some horse other than Super Saver.