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June 6, 2003

by Bill Hogan


If recent history is any indication, Funny Cide has little or no chance of winning the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown of horse racing. This unfavorable prediction might seem somewhat surprising considering the New York-bred gelding won the Preakness by an impressive margin just two weeks after an exciting - albeit unlikely - victory in the Kentucky Derby.

But there is a quarter century of near-misses backing up my pessimistic prognostication. You have to go as far back as 2002 to find the last thoroughbred – War Emblem - to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to come up short at the Belmont.


It's been 25 years since Affirmed last captured the Triple Crown. Since then, seven horses have galloped up to the starting gate at the Belmont Stakes with a chance at horse racing's ultimate trifecta. In all, seventeen horses came up lame in the final leg since Sir Barton became the first TC winner in 1919.

Many in the racing community have expressed a desire to see, finally, another Triple Crown winner. Twenty-five years is long enough to wait. I subscribe to a different philosophy; maybe it's been 25 years because winning the TC is just too hard. That it takes a once in a lifetime performance that we may not again see in our lifetime.

There have only been eleven Triple Crown winners in the history of thoroughbred racing. And though Funny Cide is an even money bet to win the Belmont, the historical odds are stacked against him.

Maybe it was lucky to have eleven horses win the Triple Crown. Maybe there really should have only been two or three. And maybe the TC should have been one of those athletic feats that never could be duplicated.

Sure it's been 25 years since a horse won the Triple Crown. But it's been 62 years since a baseball player hit over .400 – Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941, has anyone since really even come close?

On July 16, 1941, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in his 56th consecutive game. In 2003, players make the SportsCenter highlights nightly if they're working on a twenty-game hitting streak. Hit safely in 30 games and they become a household name; but nobody since Joe D has gotten past 44 games. My guess is nobody will.

It's been 35 years since Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain won 31 games. That'll never happen again. When Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrezemski batted .326, hit 44 home runs and drove in 121 in 1967, he became the last baseball player to win the Triple Crown. Any talk of a Triple Crown winner nowadays usually fades by the All-Star break.

It looks like the NFL has achieved its main objective for the new millennium – league wide parity. It probably makes the 16-game regular season more interesting for more teams; it also makes the 1972 Miami Dolphins' undefeated season untouchable.

Ask Tiger Woods if he truly believes he'll ever win eleven consecutive PGA tour events. Byron Nelson did it in 1945; the sports media was agog when Tiger got to (and remained at) six in a row. Some sports feats seem so hard to duplicate that it's amazing they were ever accomplished in the first place.

Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown since World War I. It may never happen again – at least not in our lifetime. The same way that we'll probably never see anyone hit safely in 56 consecutive games or win 11 straight PGA tournaments (no, not even Tiger).

So a bunch of old high school buddies kick in five grand each for a horse that's now on the verge of winning the Triple Crown. Nobody expected him to do anything in the Kentucky Derby and he beat the odds on favorite. Belmont Stakes entrants are dropping like horse flies and the field is down to about a half dozen. Things look pretty good for Funny Cide.

But it seems horrifically ironic that a horse that's now chasing racing's crown jewel has had his family jewels lopped off. I think, eventually, he has to wake up in a cold sweat and wonder "what's the point?"

I have to question Funny Cide's motivation. And I have to look at a hundred years of history. I think it's safe to say that Funny Cide doesn't stand a chance.

Now if I were you, I'd look at a quarter century of me being wrong – every time.


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