SARATOGA SPRINGS—Spectacular Bid, 1979. Pleasant Colony, 1981. Alysheba, 1987. Sunday Silence, 1989. Funny Cide, 2003 Smarty Jones, 2004. Those are six horses who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but failed to win the Belmont, the third and final leg of the Triple Crown.
On a smaller scale, the Big Apple Triple, the triple crown for New York bred horses was on the line yesterday as Amberjack was trying to become only the second horse to win the Mike Lee, the New York Derby and the Albany Stakes. The BAT, begun in 1999 offered a $250,000 bonus if a horse could win all three legs, and since its inception, only Tin Cup Chalice in 2008 has won it.
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite in a field of six, Amberjack could never overtake the front running Escapefromreality, who wired the field to win the 1 1/8 race in 1:51.61. The pace was pedestrian, and with nobody willing to go, jockey Javier Castellano took Escapefromreality to the lead and the three year old son of Read the Footnotes set easy fractions 24.56, 49.30, 1:13.37, and 1:38.18. Amberjack appeared poised to pass, but Escapefromreality found another gear, running the last furlong in 12.43 to spoil Amberjack’s bid to take home the trifecta.
Amberjack and Escapefromreality were the only two horses who had the chance to win. Smooth Bert, who ran in all three BAT races was a distant third. At the end of the race, Amberjack jockey Junior Alvarado may have realized that he let one get away. It appeared that Alvarado was poised to let his colt get the lead at the six furlong mark, but decided to sit and wait. That proved costly, because the slow and easy fractions allowed Escapefromreality to sit and save something, and when it was time to go in deep stretch, Amberjack, who was so explosive during his wins in the Lee and the Derby could not not respond.
It just didn’t appear that Amberjack had the sharpness that he showed in those earlier two races. Perhaps if he could have gotten to the lead before the top of the stretch, the result may have been different. He may have taken the fight out of the Dominic Schettino trained colt, but by holding back, it gave the Withers runner-up confidence and that held up with a 2 1/2 length victory.
Triple Crowns, no matter what level or what sport for that matter, are hard to win. Even the Big Apple Triple with three races over 11 1/2 weeks as compared to three over 5 weeks for the Triple Crown is tough to achieve. The extra sixteenth of a mile may have been the demise of Amberjack, but in watching and reviewing the race, it appears Alvarado waited too long to seize the lead and give his colt the best chance to win.
The Big Apple Triple will be contested again next year, starting in June with the Mike Lee and the incentive to win it will remain high. It is great way to promote New York breeding and New York bred races and surely will have a number of candidates vying for that elusive bonus. A win by Amberjack would have earned the colt $505,000, a combination of the three purses and the $250K bonus, but instead his take for his work totals $195,000. But, as we know that’s racing. In a touch of class, Amberjack trainer, Mike Hushion visited the winner’s circle to offer congratulations to Schettino.
I’m not sure how many in the crowd of 15,000 plus at the Spa knew what was at stake, but in many ways spoiling a triple crown may be more exciting than seeing a horse win it. Think about it: when and if a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont, what will the fan have to agonize over? Part of the charm of the Boston Red Sox from 1918-2003 was that they never won. Now, they have two titles and nothing for the New England faithful to anguish about. At least Chicago Cubs fans still live with that yearly anguish.
One of these days we will see another Triple Crown winner, but which series will see it first, the Triple Crown or the Big Apple Triple?
I guess we will have to wait until 2014.