Racing Roundtable: Triple Crown spacing and the Hall of Fame

May 17th, 2022

With a lot of chatter last week regarding Triple Crown spacing and the Hall of Fame announcement, the roundtable of James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson discuss those issues and look ahead to Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Day card at "Old Hilltop."

In light of recent developments, should the Triple Crown's current five-week window be modified?

James Scully: No, the Triple Crown is horse racing's biggest event, and the five-week window adds to its popularity. The Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness (G1), and Belmont (G1) are special, horsemen can prepare for the spacing, and the five-week window is set in stone presently โ€” we know the dates for all three races in the future. Any change to the schedule would weaken the Triple Crown.

Kellie Reilly: Extending the time frame for the classics cuts both ways, with a downside that to me outweighs any possible upside. It wouldn't only help horses who need more spacing between races; it also carries a negative side effect of creating more time for things to go amiss. I'm thinking of the late Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham's quip about horses being like strawberries, because they can go bad overnight. Keeping these athletes sound, healthy, and performing at a high level is a challenge as it is; how many contenders will last if the trail is prolonged? Justify wouldn't have made it. Also, preserving the Triple Crown is a matter of justice toward those who can accomplish the sweep, as it is. A thought experiment: What if the sequence had been changed before 2015? Wouldn't we see American Pharoah differently, as the beneficiary of an elongated schedule? But by winning the Triple Crown in its established form, American Pharoah cemented his historical legacy.

Vance Hanson: Generations of fans and media, hardcore and casual alike, are accustomed to having the Triple Crown held in a five-week window in May and June. That's certainly been the case for almost the entirety of time the series has been available to the masses via television. But let's take a look at this from an angle that's not generally discussed, namely money. For those advocating a radical change in the scheduling of the final two legs of the series, simply because this Preakness is not living up to their aesthetic standard of intrigue and field composition, some queries: Will this Preakness Day be a financial disaster and not among the top four wagered cards of the year, as it usually is regardless of who does and doesn't run in the Preakness? Is the NYRA really interested and willing to consider pushing back to, say, early July the Belmont Stakes Day it has built into a betting behemoth, thus competing with the public's Independence Day holiday attention and brushing up against the organization's Saratoga cash cow? Is it a lead-pipe cinch that handle and interest in the final two legs of the series would receive such an immediate economic boost that it would completely offset any negative effects of throwing out decades of tradition and conditioning on the part of Triple Crown consumers? I await feedback. Meanwhile, I remain unconvinced at the notion that one of the few things working for the industry is broken, as I've written here and here.

Were there any nominees you felt were unjustly "snubbed" in last week's Hall of Fame announcement?

JS: Kona Gold. Arguably the top North American sprinter over the last 25 years, Kona Gold is seemingly being held to a higher standard due to his classification. Hall of Fame voters haven't signed a declaration that the sprint division is inferior to all others, but sprinters are not recognized along the same parameters as other divisions. That's why no contemporary sprinter has been inducted over the last seven years, and Kona Gold deserves to be recognized.

KR: I don't get too exercised over Hall of Fame voting, partly because I don't envy the task of making those tough choices. But mainly I'd rather the electorate err on the side of taking longer than fall prey to recency bias, and cast votes that might not stand up as well over time. Obviously that concern doesn't apply to absolute slam-dunks like Beholder and Tepin, both worthy of their first-ballot Hall of Fame status. It does apply, however, to those whose historical stature isn't as crystal-clear.

VH: The two most deserving nominees among contemporary runners, Beholder and Tepin, were both elected on their first try last week. That's not to say some of the other equine nominees are not worthy of making it in someday, but I have a difficult time getting worked up about certain horses allegedly being snubbed for a couple reasons. First, there are a number of horses already in the Hall who in my opinion should not be there, many of whom were inducted before my time as a voter. Second, there are a number of worthy horses I feel languished a lot longer than those that are allegedly being snubbed today, or continue to languish unnoticed by the Hall electorate and/or its committees. Among the latter group is one sprinter that was undoubtedly one of the best of his kind in the last forty years. If any other Hall of Fame voter or interested observer wants to civilly exchange views about this, I'd be happy to hear from them:

Who are you looking forward to seeing on Pimlico's Friday card?

JS: Favor didn't have the cleanest trip when third behind a pair of accomplished foes in her stakes debut, the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), but she held well to finish only a couple of lengths back of Echo Zulu and Hidden Connection. Those rivals opted for the Kentucky Oaks (G1), which would have been too tough for Favor, but the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) is the perfect spot for the up-and-coming filly. Todd Pletcher has a record-tying four wins in the 1 1/8-mile race, and Favor is built to relish longer distances. Listed at an enticing 8-1 on the morning line, the stalker should receive a prime setup in the speed-laden field.

KR: I'm hoping that we see Adare Manor back to her best in the Black-Eyed Susan. The Uncle Mo filly looked potentially special before she was upended by Desert Dawn in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2). That result looks better after Desert Dawn came back to run an excellent third in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). But there's much more. Aside from watching Pizza Bianca in the Hilltop S., her prep for Royal Ascot, I'm intrigued by a couple of runners earlier on the card โ€” Credit River in the first race and Affable Monarch in the fourth. Both were smashing, last-to-first debut winners as juveniles who disappeared after their second starts. Credit River made a big impression when premiering in a stakes at Woodbine, way back in the fall of 2020. Now he resurfaces for new trainer Jonathan Thomas. I thought Affable Monarch would develop into a top Kentucky Derby contender when he blew away the field in a Monmouth Park sprint. Fingers crossed that the Arrogate colt is ready to fulfill his promise now for Jorge Duarte Jr.

VH: The Black-Eyed Susan, despite coming only two weeks following an overloaded Kentucky Oaks, as usual came up interesting, and I'm intrigued to see how Distinctlypossible does in the nine-furlong fixture. Although she only broke her maiden last month at Keeneland, the daughter of Curlin and Fleur de Lis (G2) heroine Funny Proposition stamped her potential quality last fall in her second start, finishing second best to Juju's Map, who later went on to place in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and was a smart allowance winner on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Despite her limited racing experience, Distinctlypossible fits well with this group.