I’ll be rooting for Barbaro in tomorrow’s Preakness, as I root for any Kentucky Derby-winning horse until we once again have a Triple Crown winner (at which point I’ll go back to rooting for underdogs). At 27 years and counting, the Triple Crown drought has become depressing. Barbaro will be going up against a field of 8 other horses, only two of whom ran against him in the Derby two weeks ago. This is one of my pet peeves, as a casual fan. It seems to me that once a horse is entered into one of the Triple Crown races, he should not be allowed to come and go between races. In other words, if you run the Derby and skip the Preakness, you forfeit the chance to run in the Belmont. Likewise, if you skip the Derby, you can’t run in the other two. What we get too often is a Derby-winning horse going up against a field that is better rested. I fully expect some of the Preakness no-shows to re-emerge for the Belmont, where they can run on five weeks’ rest with nothing at stake.
The most notorious instance in my memory of this kind of switching was Red Bullet in 2000, who skipped the Derby, then won the Preakness against the overhyped Derby winner, Fusaichi Pegasus. But instead of having the decency of sticking around for the Belmont, where the two horses could have at each other again, Red Bullet bagged out, content with having won a million bucks and ruining another Triple Crown hopeful’s chances. It seemed mercenary to me on Red Bullet’s part – well, on the part of his handlers, that is. The horse showed no sign of poor character.
And from 2002-2004, potential Triple Crown winners were upended at the Belmont by better rested horses. War Emblem was done in by Sarava, a horse that had been in neither of the previous two races; Funny Cide was defeated by his rival Empire Maker, who skipped the Preakness; and Smarty Jones was edged out by Birdstone, who also skipped the Preakness.