Another ordinary Triple Crown

June, 8, 2013

As another Triple Crown season ended Saturday with the 145th edition of the $1 million Belmont Stakes, and the victorious 13-1 shot Palace Malice drew clear of Preakness winner Oxbow in the stretch, it brought down the curtain on a series that will be remembered as a five-week period for the ages -- though not for the reason that matters most.

It was basically the age of the winning connections, not the accomplishments of the horses, that stood out during the course of a Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont that only provided another bitter Triple Crown tease and pushed the drought without a sweep into a 35th year.

It was a time that brought us 62-year-old Shug McGaughey, the old-school Kentucky born and bred trainer who won his first Kentucky Derby thanks to Orb. There was 77-year-trainer D. Wayne Lukas and 50-year-old jockey Gary Stevens winning the Preakness with Oxbow. Finally, 47-year-old jockey Mike Smith won the Belmont for 85-year-old owner Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stable with some help from trainer Todd Pletcher, a mere toddler at the age of 45.

But aside from the AARP implications, the 2013 Triple Crown was about as satisfying as a McRib sandwich at a world-class steak house.

Orb started the ball spinning. After a convincing win in the Derby, he seemed preordained to not only win the Preakness but end an insufferable Triple Crown drought that dated back to 1978. Instead, he finished fourth in the Preakness as a 3-5 favorite and was only slightly more competitive in the Belmont, winding up third, five lengths behind Palace Malice, as the 2-1 favorite.

"I just wish," McGaughey said, "we had showed a little better performance in the in the Preakness and Belmont."

He wasn't alone.

Meanwhile, capitalizing on Orb's disappointments, Oxbow and Palace Malice joined the fraternity of Triple Crown race winners, but their efforts were ordinary at best.

Oxbow's winning time in the Preakness was the slowest since 1961.

Capitalizing on Orb's disappointments, Oxbow and Palace Malice joined the fraternity of Triple Crown race winners, but their efforts were ordinary at best.

Palace Malice's time of 2:30.70 for his 3 ¼-length score was more than 6 seconds slower than Secretariat's world-record romp in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. It was faster than only Ruler On Ice (2011), Drosselmeyer (2010) and Commendable (2000) since 1996, and let's just say that trio in terms of racing history is a who's that as opposed to a who's who.

Together, aside from their maiden win and their Triple Crown moment of glory, Oxbow and Palace Malice have one other win. That belongs to Oxbow, who took the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes in January. Palace Malice's résumé includes his 12th-place finish in the Derby due to setting a foolishly fast early pace, a second in the Blue Grass, a troubled seventh in the Louisiana Derby and a third in the Risen Star.

Take away the troublesome races -- the Kentucky Derby and Louisiana Derby -- and his 13-1 upset in the Belmont seems a bit more understandable. His stature, though? Or Oxbow's or Orb's, for that matter? If there was something exceptional about the three Triple Crown races it was the tease generated by Orb.

As summer approaches, the 3-year-old championship is still up for grabs, with Oxbow perhaps holding an edge over Orb. Future races like the Haskell and Travers might settle the matter and perhaps give someone a chance to stand out from a seemingly ordinary group.

But for now, at the end of a winding, five-week-long chase, another ordinary and anything but fulfilling Triple Crown season has come to an end without a sweep -- and that's getting old, very old.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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