JC / Railbird

Passé Crown

What is the Triple Crown?

That’s the question that came to mind as I read the Blood-Horse report that Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas plans to start discussions about altering the spacing between the three races after the 2014 season concludes:

“I think the schedule of two weeks between the Derby and three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont is passé; it’s done.”

Chuckas plans to propose that the Kentucky Derby remain on the first Saturday in May, with the Preakness Stakes moving to the first weekend in June, and the Belmont Stakes to the first weekend in July. It’s not a new idea — every year, the Triple Crown schedule comes in for criticism as too quick, too demanding, too old-fashioned. Here’s Pat Forde making that argument:

The bleakness of this Preakness field emphasizes a fundamental flaw in thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. It is run on an outdated calendar. The turnaround from the first Saturday in May to the third Saturday in May is not something most thoroughbred owners and trainers are interested in trying.

If the Triple Crown is primarily about finding and celebrating a horse who can win all three races — if it’s mostly about the breed, and for us, the game’s most devoted fans and participants — then the series probably should be changed. A schedule that goes four weeks between starts fits how elite horses race now. Tradition has to serve a purpose, or it’s just a fetish.

But I wonder if we’d lose the season, the closest thing on the American racing calendar to a festival, and if we would miss it, the big circus moving from track to track, the one time of the year that the excitement of racing — the possibility of seeing something special — captures the imagination of the broader public. Whatever else the Triple Crown is, it’s a curiosity. Changing the schedule could make it an irrelevance. We might get a Triple Crown winner out of the deal, but we might be the only people partying.