Thursday, June 21, 2012

It Stinks Like Horse...well...y'know...

So, I was hunkered down in quiet anticipation two weeks ago...thinking this could be the year. This could be the first time in decades that there was a triple crown winner. More than 3 decades, actually, as the last one was the year I was born...1978. Whoa, right? (that it's been that long...not how old I am...geez...)

I understand that the triple crown is not so earth-moving to people who don't follow horse racing, but it's an intense and grueling month of training for everyone involved. The Kentucky Derby always takes place the first Saturday in May (which is a heads-up to anyone inviting me to a wedding, baby shower, or other event that runs past 6 PM that I will be tuned in more to my phone than to your big day), the Preakness Stakes runs the third Saturday in May, and the Belmont Stakes races the third Saturday following the Preakness. The races span from Louisville to Baltimore to Elmont, NY and each race distance varies. To win the Triple Crown, you have to have a horse that has both endurance and speed. Even in humans, that's a rare combination as most of us have a fairly even number of fast-twitch muscle fibers (speed) and slow-twitch muscle fibers (endurance). An over-abundance of either is also where you will find your elite marathon runners (slow-twitch) and your Olympic sprinters (fast-twitch). Owning a horse that can win all three races, back-to-back-to-back would be like knowing someone who won the Boston Marathon and then two weeks later, scored a gold in the 50-yard dash. And so we are now in a 34-year drought.

It just so happens that a friend of mine who attended our Derby party last month, bet and won on I'll Have Another. Her husband was temporarily stationed in Las Vegas during the Preakness and placed and won another bet for her on the same horse. Excitement was building, the buzz was, well...buzzing...about the possibility of a triple crown winner. I'll Have Another was looking like a definite contender, even if he had been under tight 24-hour security ever since the Preakness.

And then, on late Friday afternoon, the news. Not only was the next great hope going to drop out of the Belmont, he was retiring altogether. Tendonitis, the paper said. Bullshit others claimed. The armed security that stood guard at the triple crown hopeful's stall were not there for show or for protection. According to many sources, they were there to prevent the trainer, Doug O'Neill, from doping the horse. Although I'll Have Another tested clean in all previous drug tests, O'Neill has not been quite so squeaky clean. The trainer has been sanctioned several times for suspicion of doping and a week before the Belmont, a California racing body handed down a 45-day suspension for his probable role in feeding an illegal, performance-enhancing cocktail to a horse he trained in 2010. His suspension was to begin immediately following the Belmont.

So, although the past should remain in the past and sins should be forgiven, it's nearly impossible to ignore the conspiracy theory that I'll Have Another's sudden withdrawal from the Belmont had less to do with a leg injury and more to do with the embarrassing and lackluster race he may have run because O'Neill didn't have the access he needed prior to Saturday. And if he suddenly did poorly, that would arouse just enough suspicion to call the other races into question. But as it stands, I'll Have Another has been crowned victorious in 2 of the 3 Triple Crown races. The honesty of those 2 races may be doubted by many but it will never result in an official inquiry. And he will live out the rest of his days, pouncing about in lush green grass and making his owner gloriously rich for every thrust and release that results in a winner. And no one will ever really know for sure...

There are a lot of rumors and what-if scenarios bouncing around on the horse racing forums. Please share your opinion...or your facts. It's hard to know if there is truly a situation or if I'm really just that cynical...

1 comment:

  1. I don't know a thing about the facts, but I was extremely disappointed when the possibility of a Triple Crown winner fell through.