By Drew Markol, TSN Contributor - Archive - Email
Nobody asked me, but...
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - What's the rush?

Why do we rush horse racing's Triple Crown events when there really isn't a need to do so?

The game of horse racing, high stakes horse racing, has changed dramatically over the years. It's become a sport in which the top horses are worth more if they stay in the barn and stay off the track.

Sound strange? It is, but the chances of a horse getting hurt in the barn are a lot less than if they're running.

That's why it's time to revamp and redo the schedule of the Triple Crown races. No, no, no, we're not going to change the order of them. True, it's a little odd that the Triple Crown biggie - the Kentucky Derby - comes first (it's kind of like playing the Super Bowl and then having the wild-card playoffs in football the next week), but that's just fortuitous for the folks in Louisville (by the way, the Derby, by a few years, is actually the youngest of the three races).

What needs to be done is to break tradition (oh, the horror) and change the dates of the three races.

Keep the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May. That's cool. It's easy to remember and it's a harbinger of spring. This race isn't the problem.

It's the Preakness and Belmont Stakes that would require shifting.

Simply put, instead of the Preakness being two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes being three weeks after the Preakness, it's well past the time to stretch things out (pardon the pun).

Have the Derby in early May and then wait four weeks for the Preakness. Then wait another four to hold the Belmont.

Do that and the odds increase that many of the top horses will actually run in them.

As it stands today, if a horse has a bad run in the Derby, chances are he or she will be kept out of the Preakness.

Or, owners and trainers will keep their horses out of the Derby and run them in the Preakness in an effort to get a Triple Crown win against a tired Derby winner.

It's just another part of the problem. Trainers and owners know, under the current setup, that winning the Triple Crown is nearly impossible. Too many things can go wrong and pushing a horse too far in three races can have dire consequences. A horse that has to be put down isn't going to make a dime breeding in the barn.

But win just one of the Triple Crown races and your horse's stud fee skyrockets and you can just about retire him/her to the farm.

If you spread out the races, add in some serious financial incentives (which horse racing has tried), and simply make it worthwhile, maybe it could happen, maybe a horse could win all three.

The game is dying and it desperately needs a Triple Crown winner.

We've come close lately as four horses - War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008) - have won the first two legs but come up short in the Belmont.

While two out of three ain't bad, it's not good enough. We've been waiting since 1978, when Affirmed did it, for the next Triple Crown winner to come along. In the '70s, three horses accomplished the feat (Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed), but it's been nada since.

Many point to the problem of finishing off the trifecta being that the Belmont, at a monstrous 1 1/2 miles, is just too long a race (the Preakness, at 1 3/16, is the shortest). It's a distance none of today's horses is bred to run.

I'm too much of a purist to suggest the Belmont be shortened, that wouldn't be good at all. But if horses have more rest before running it, my bet is it would help.

The current way isn't producing what the sport needs most, so a little change could go a long way.

Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several newspapers in the Philadelphia area for more than 25 years.

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