Many negative things have been said and written over the past few months about the sport of thoroughbred racing, but looking back over the frantic five weeks that comprise the Triple Crown series one thought grips me more than any other.
I can’t possibly fathom how any other sporting event – or series of events – can provide not only racing aficionados, but once-a-year fans as well, with so many tortuous twists and turns of emotion in such a short period of time.
Excitement … joy … anticipation … disappointment … sadness … redemption frustration. They were all there to be seen as the 2012 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes played out and took racing fans on a roller-coaster ride of emotions unlike any I’ve seen in decades.
First, there was the pulse-pounding excitement of the Derby with the courageous colt I’ll Have Another running down the gallant pacesetter Bodemeister in the shadow of the wire at Churchill Downs.
That set off a wild celebration in the Team O’Neil camp as trainer Doug O’Neill, owner J. Paul Reddam and their California-based contingent felt they were vindicated by the performance of their Santa Anita Derby winner, who was dispatched at 15-1 by the bettors who basically believed he had little or no chance to win the Roses in Louisville.
Then, it was on to Baltimore for the Preakness, where Bodemeister and I‘ll Have Another staged an instant replay of the Derby with the chestnut son of Flower Alley getting the job done again, this time by an even slimmer margin, a neck, in the final, desperate strides.
That, of course, created a dizzying buzz of anticipation as the racing world girded itself for I’ll Have Another’s attempt to join the sport’s pantheon of champions and become just the 12th Triple Crown winner in history.
Bob Baffert, the silver-haired, Hall of Fame trainer of Bodemeister, decided not to try I’ll Have Another with his Derby and Preakness runner-up but he reloaded for the Belmont with yet another talented 3-year-old in his barn, Paynter, who he felt was more equipped to handle the demanding mile-and-a-half distance of the “Test of the Champion.”
Meanwhile, trainer Michael Matz, the conditioner of the ill-fated Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, had his eyes on redemption in the third jewel with Union Rags, the ultra-talented colt who had a disastrous trip in Kentucky and was held out of the Preakness to await his chance on his home turf at Belmont Park.