For the 23rd consecutive year, there will be no Triple Crown winner.
Since the inception of the Kentucky Derby in 1875, a span of 127 years, there have been only 11. Forty-four horses have won two of the three classic races for 3-year-olds that comprise the Triple Crown: the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. When Derby winner Monarchos finished a disappointing sixth in Saturday’s Preakness, it ended any chance of a Triple Crown winner this year. Affirmed was the last Triple Crown winner, in 1978.
The most recent winner of two of the three races was Charismatic, a rejuvenated claiming horse who won the Derby and the Preakness for D. Wayne Lukas in 1999 before suffering a fracture to his left front leg while finishing third in the Belmont.
Only immediate action by Charismatic’s rider, the late Chris Antley, prevented what could have been a life-threatening injury. Antley cradled the colt’s leg in his arms until medical aid arrived.
Randy Bradshaw experienced that Triple Crown tour with Lukas and thus knows first hand how difficult it is to capture racing’s most elusive and prestigious prize.
"It’s a tough series because the races are two weeks and three weeks apart on young horses that are asked to go further than they’ve ever gone in their life," said Bradshaw, who has been Lukas’ top lieutenant for the past five years. Prior to that, the 50-year-old Wyoming native was a successful trainer in his own right.
"Before the Kentucky Derby, most of these horses only have run as far as a mile and a sixteenth or a mile and an eighth," Bradshaw said. "In the Triple Crown, you stretch them to a mile and a quarter, come back in two weeks at a mile and three-sixteenths, then come back three weeks later going a mile and a half.
"From a quality standpoint, these horses are the best we have in America. The races are not easy. They’re tough on horses and consequently that’s why we don’t have very many Triple Crown winners," he added.
From a personal standpoint, Bradshaw says the series couldn’t be more exciting.
"To be there is quite a thrill," he said. "It’s funny this year, even though for the first time in 20 years our stable didn’t have a horse in the Derby or the Preakness, I feel a little bit close to it because of Yvonne Azeff, who’s with Monarchos. She was my assistant for quite a while, and when I went to work for Wayne, I brought her with me and she worked for Wayne a while. I can’t say enough about her.
"She’s just a consummate horsewoman and works hard all the time. She never quits. You just thank God we’ve got people like her in the industry because she’s great, and she’s done a great job with Monarchos, because John’s (trainer John Ward Jr.) been gone a lot. I give her a lot of credit because I know how much work she’s done with the horse," he said.
"It’s a thrill to compete in the Triple Crown, and very difficult to win. Even winning two of three is tough, although I know it’s been done in recent years. But it’s not easy. Horses have to go through these races without having any injuries or any little nickel and dime things that can stop them from winning. They have to be 100 percent," he said.
While Team Lukas bit the bullet and did not participate in the first two legs of this year’s Triple Crown, Bradshaw is optimistic about a return to glory in 2002.
"I think we look at our 2-year-old crop and know that we’ll be back," he said. "We’re real deep in colts this year. It’s just one year (we missed the Derby) and Wayne’s been there 20 years in a row. That’s a big record in itself. Two year olds are our mainstay, and when you look down the line, we’ve got a pretty deep bench, so I’m sure we’ll be back next year."
THE HOMESTRETCH: Easygoing Victor Espinoza was not bitter about his removal from Congaree for Jerry Bailey in the Preakness. Espinoza rode Congaree to a surprisingly strong third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, but was replaced by Bailey in the Preakness. "What was I supposed to do," Espinoza asked, displaying his ready smile, "carry the horse across the finish line?" Espinoza said trainer Bob Baffert congratulated him for his ride after the Derby. "Then, a few days later," Espinoza said, "he contacted my agent (Tony Matos) and told him we were off the horse." Espinoza was vindicated when he out-finished Congaree aboard A P Valentine to gain second place by a neck in the Preakness . . . Why did Bailey ride 47-1 shot Talk Is Money in the Kentucky Derby? Word is Bailey received a $25,000 retainer from owner Daniel Borislow to ride the horse, who was eased and did not finish the race . . . Laffit Pincay Jr. was happy to be home after a grueling and unsuccessful trip to Singapore where Lazy Lode finished eighth in the $3 million Singapore Cup. "It was great to visit a place I’d never been before, and they had terrific fruit, like mangos and papaya," said the world’s winningest rider with 9,145 victories, "but it was an 18-hour flight and the weather was really hot and humid. The fact that the horse didn’t do much running didn’t help matters." . . . Overnight purses will be higher when Fairplex Park opens on Sept. 6 for its annual 18-day run. "We’re dropping one stakes race (the C.B. Afflerbaugh) worth $50,000 and distributing that money towards the day-to-day races," said recently retired vice president of racing at Fairplex, Neil O’Dwyer . . . Cow in Solana, a 3-year-old gray daughter of 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull, won her debut comfortably at 18-1 for trainer Paddy Gallagher, who gave this explanation for her odd name: "The owner is Japanese (Shunichi Yamada) and he lives in Solana (California). The filly’s sire is Holy Bull, but I think there was a language barrier."