Archive for Citation

Winning A Triple Crown is Entering a Special Sector of Thoroughbred Greatness

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Andrew Beyer of The Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Triple Crown bid is a race against history

When I’ll Have Another attempts to win the Belmont Stakes on June 9 and capture the Triple Crown, he must do more than defeat a formidable group of opponents. He must overcome history.

The Triple Crown series almost unfailingly thwarts horses who are not among the sport’s all-time greats. In the past 64 years, only Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed have swept the 3-year-old classics. Since Affirmed’s success in 1978, a total of 11 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness before failing in the Belmont Stakes.

If a committee of experts tried to design a definitive test of American racehorses, it could not have devised one more effective than the Triple Crown series. In theory, a less-than-great horse ought to be able to beat a subpar group of rivals three times or hit a streak of hot form lasting for a few weeks. But of the 11 Triple Crown winners, only one – Omaha in 1935 – might be considered a fluke.

No one conceived or planned the Triple Crown. It evolved haphazardly. The distances and schedule of the races underwent various changes over the years before it took its present form in the 1970s: the 1 1/4-mile Derby is run at Louisville’s Churchill Down on the first Saturday in May. The 1 3/16-mile Preakess is contested two weeks later at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Three weeks later, Belmont Park on Long Island is the site of the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the series.

When Sir Barton won the three stakes for 3-year-olds in 1919, there was no Triple Crown. Charles Hatton, a Daily Racing Form columnist, began using the term in the 1930s, and when Whirlaway completed a sweep in 1941, he was the first horse universally hailed as a Triple Crown winner. The Thoroughbred Racing Associations created a Triple Crown trophy in 1950.

Four horses won the Triple Crown in the 1940s, but no horse did it in the quarter of a century between Citation in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973. The 1970s, the so-called decade of champions, produced three Triple Crown winners. But now 34 years have passed since Affirmed outdueled Alydar in an epic Belmont battle.

Before 1978, horses who captured two-thirds of the Triple Crown were just as likely to be foiled in the Derby or Preakness as the Belmont. Racing luck was a frequent culprit; Native Dancer’s rough trip cost him the 1953 Derby and Little Current was badly blocked in 1974.

But since Affirmed’s triumph, the Belmont Stakes has become the great obstacle in the Triple Crown. Two changes in the modern game have made the Belmont so elusive. American Thoroughbreds have become less durable, and running three times in a five-week period is more stressful for modern horses than for their ancestors. (The schedule used to be even more demanding. Sir Barton had only three days’ rest between the Derby and the Preakness.) Relatively few modern-day horses compete in all three legs of the series unless they are pursuing a Triple Crown sweep, in which case they are usually facing a field of fresher rivals.

The major difficulty in the Belmont, however, is its distance. Contemporary American horses almost never compete at 1 1/2 miles on the dirt. Few are bred to run so far. The history of the race suggests strongly that a horse’s running style plays a great part in determining his effectiveness. And the ideal style for the Belmont is antithetical to the style that often succeeds in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Horses frequently seize command of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness with one bold move – usually on the final turn. But when a horse tries to unleash a similar burst at Belmont Park, he still has a seemingly endless stretch in front of him, and rarely can sustain momentum to the finish line.

Many horses have won the Derby or the Preakness with eye-catching acceleration on the turn: Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999). All of them lost their Triple Crown bid in the Belmont, and almost all of them were fading in the last quarter-mile.

Plodders sometimes win the Belmont and speed horses often do – but in either case they are likely to be even-paced runners, not ones whose forte is sharp acceleration. When Affirmed led all the way in 1978, he meted out his speed, running the first quarter-mile in 25 seconds flat and the final quarter in 25.20. Such controllable speed is the most formidable asset a horse can have in the Belmont. It is no coincidence that the past four Triple Crown winners won the race by leading all the way.

As I’ll Have Another bids to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, he has certain obvious strengths and weaknesses. He has not yet proved himself to be in the class of greats such as Secretariat and Affirmed. He will be competing for the third time in five weeks against challengers who have been given a breather before the Belmont. But he appears to have a respectable pedigree, and he possesses a blend of speed and stretch-running ability that could add up to an effective running style at 1 1/2 miles. Now he has a chance to add his name to a list that includes some of the greatest Thoroughbreds who ever lived.



Citation and Rapid Redux: Nothing In Common But The Numbers

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jay Hovdey of The Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

There are records and then there are records

That crunching and groaning heard ‘round the North American racing world this week was the sound of fans and media bending over backwards in an attempt to place the 20-race win streak of Rapid Redux into sensible context.

So let’s get the qualified encomiums out of the way up front. Rapid Redux has found a stage upon which he can perform, race after race, at the pinnacle of his talents. Where those talents fit in the big picture is grist for debate – no one is suggesting he’s playing La Scala, or Tanglewood, or even Off-Off Broadway – but certainly he deserves high praise for his extended success in a sport that offers far more ways to lose than win.

In his case, the chances for losing have been reduced by the level of competition he faces. He is clearly blessed with a sound and healthy constitution that must be the envy of horsemen everywhere. And in the true spirit of a pack leader, his success has helped pay for the ongoing upkeep of lesser horses owned by Robert Cole.

A dedicated skeptic might look at the pedigree of Rapid Redux and wonder why he hasn’t achieved more, at least in terms of quality. As a son of Pleasantly Perfect he comes from a powerful sire line tracing in short order to Ribot, one of the breed‘s Big Daddies. The female family of Rapid Redux kicks off with mares by Storm Cat, Tom Rolfe (by Ribot), and Forli, and ends up wandering around in the same gene pool that gave us Northern Dancer, Halo, Tosmah, Cannonade and Stephan’s Oddysey.

It’s a tough game, though. Sometimes you can breed the best to the best and come up with nothing more than a headstrong saddle pony. Rapid Redux, for all the hopes and dreams his bloodlines might have encouraged, has been an over-achiever by most reasonable measures, eminently worthy of his locally heroic status. He can’t help it if hungry bloggers trolling for comments and track publicists desperate for site hits have elevated his achievements beyond reason.

Blame it on the suggestive power of raw numbers, and the quick-twitch intellect of the human species that has been trained on smoke signals, telegrams, headlines, texts, and tweets. Detached from the reality they represent, numbers of scale – 20, 100, 1,000 – take on a self-justifying life of their own as in, “He must have done something good. He did it 20 times!”

No one has made a case that Rapid Redux could warm up Zenyatta, Cigar, Buckpasser, or any of the other win-streaky names in the history of the sport. But there they are anyway, popping up in the same paragraphs, conflating away as if the achievements somehow relate.

His justifiably proud trainer, David Wells, did not help matters much when he said, in the wake of RR’s 20th straight last Monday at Charles Town, “We’re still eyeing Citation’s record.”

I hope they enjoy the view.

The “record” to which Wells referred is the 19 wins of Citation in 1948, when he started 20 times. Rapid Redux, in the midst of his 20-race winning streak, has 18 of them in 2011.

Beyond the coincidence of the numbers involved, the only thing any records Citation and Rapid Redux would have in common is the fact that they were established in a counter-clockwise direction. Let’s set aside for a moment the piddling string of bargain basement starter allowance races won by Rapid Redux – and bless those racing secretaries for magically making those races fill – and take a moment to unpack the career of Big Cy, who made his first start for Ben and Jimmy Jones on April 22, 1947.

Citation won his first five starts then finished second to Calumet stablemate Bewitch (a Hall of Famer in the making) in the 1947 Washington Park Futurity. Citation won his next seven starts and then lost the 1948 Chesapeake Trial in the mud at Havre de Grace to Saggy, who later sired Hall of Famer Carry Back. To date: 14 starts, 12 wins, 2 seconds. Not bad.

On April 17, 1948, five days after his loss in the Trial, Citation won the Chesapeake Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths and followed with 14 more victories that year. The streak included the Triple Crown, the American Derby, the Jersey Derby, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and a walkover in the Pimlico Special. Among the major stakes winners Citation beat that year were Delegate, Vulcan’s Forge, Phalanx, Better Self, Eternal Reward, First Flight and his Hall of Fame stablemates Coaltown and Armed.

After that, Citation needed a year off to deal with ankle and tendon issues. He did not lose again until Jan. 26, 1950, when he was beaten a neck by Miche in an overnight handicap at Santa Anita. The fact that Miche went on to win the Santa Anita Handicap two years later was of little consolation to most fans, who thought Citation’s streak would go on forever. But those closest to him knew better, including the man who did the vet work for the California division of the Calumet stable, Dr. Jack Robbins.

“He was still very good, but he wasn’t the horse he was as a 3-year-old,” Robbins said this week from his home in Rancho Santa Fe. “He had a low bow, and Jimmy Jones managed him pretty well. Dealing with that bow, all he could do was keep him in ice packs and be careful how many times he ran.”

Citation made 15 more appearances in 1950 and 1951, which included a memorable cluster of tough beats while giving weight to a future Hall of Famer, Noor. He retired with a victory 60 years ago in the Hollywood Gold Cup as the game’s first millionaire, having won 32 races, finished second 10 times and third twice in 45 starts.

But then, those are just numbers.