It is always a shame to me to watch the scene at a Belmont Stakes where there is no Triple Crown on the line. It feels as though all of the energy is out of the race; which is supposed to be amongst the most prestigious in the entire sport.
I vividly remember 2006; when an injury to Barbaro in the Preakness left the Belmont with ABSOLUTELY no juice; and left ESPN scrambling to figure out how to cover the event. It became shameful to watch the broadcast; as the race became 2nd fiddle to Jeremy Schaap’s live reports from Barbaro’s stall at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, PA. Does anyone remember who won the race? (The answer is Jazil).
But there was something about the excitement heading into this year’s Belmont Stakes that made it almost as exciting as a legitimate Triple Crown threat to me. Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird vs. Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra-the ultimate Battle of the Sexes in the longest race of the Triple Crown. Horse of the Year likely on the line for either should they win. Calvin Borel going for the personal sweep of the Triple Crown-against the horse he rode to the most improbable of the 3.
So it’s an absolute shame to hear that Jess Jackson won’t be running the filly in the June 6 race.
It isn’t as if I don’t understand the circumstances. After blowing away the field in the Kentucky Oaks and holding off Mine That Bird down the stretch at Pimlico; there really isn’t anything left to prove with Rachel Alexandra. She can’t win the Triple Crown; and she’s going to be just as valuable to her connections without the Belmont win as she would with it.
But horse racing could certainly have used another week-ten days of the buzz that her involvement would have provided.
Borel will still get the chance to sweep the Triple Crown; as he returns to his completely improbable Derby winner. But he’ll be going against a field that lacks star power-with no offense to Chocolate Candy, Dunkirk, or Mr. Hot Stuff. A Borel win would still be a remarkable story; one that I truly believe deserves consideration for SI’s Sportsman of the Year.
Even with that, there will certainly be some amongst the New York Racing Association (NYRA) who spend their week thinking “What if?”
I know I certainly will.