Triple Crown Discussion

Jun 8, 2012 by


(Editor’s Note: This was written before I’ll Have Another was scratched from the race.  We’re too busy and too lazy to write a new piece, so you get this one.  Note the last line of the post, is there an Old 67 curse in the making?)

The potential for a Triple Crown winner brings out the racing fan in everyone.  Below are Alex’s, Alan’s and Matt’s thoughts on this potentially historic race.

Alex: How much money does it take to fill up your gas tank these days?  How would you like to pay $0.66 for a gallon of gas?  That was the price back in 1978 which was also the last time horse racing saw a Triple Crown winner.  For the horse racing no so literate out there, this means winning the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes.  34 years ago Affirmed was able to pull off the trifecta.

There have been some close Triple Crown attempts during this 34 year drought.  The most memorable was Real Quiet back in 1998.  After winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown Real Quiet lost by a nose at The Belmont Stakes.  I remember watching this race at the ripe age of 10 pulling so hard for Real Quiet.  Even though he missed, this led me to say, “and here goes Real Quiet!” while I would pedal as fast as I possibly could while delivering for my paper route.

Matt:  Back in 1998, I had not secured a summer job by the time school finished for the summer.  So like all good mothers, mine drove me down to Man Power, which basically takes people off the street and employs them for the day.  By “employs” it meant administrators in the Man Power office would ship you to some construction site to pick up scraps of lumber and perform other meaningless busy work centered around cleaning up shit for the contractors.  The administrator would hand you a hard hat, gloves, and directions to the construction site.  After your day was complete, you would return to the office to drop off your hat and glove as you waited for them to cut you a check for your day’s labor.  The check was always enough to purchase one case of beer to drink later that night with a few friends.

During the week leading up to that year’ Belmont Stakes, I was placed at the site for a new Holiday Inn Express off of Highway 41, just north of Evansville, Indiana.  The opening of the hotel was still more than four months out.  Like most days on a construction site, you tried like hell to hide, or at least act like you were busy, to avoid the crew chief.  Typically, if he spotted a Man Power worker he would immediately assign you more shit to pick up.  I wasn’t interested in listening to the asshole bark orders, so I disappeared in one of the newly constructed rooms, wasting my day doing nothing.  As I walked down the hall, I noticed another Man Power employee copying my strategy.

The guy saw me right away, and before we even made eye contact, he started right into a conversation about the upcoming race at Belmont Stakes.  He was an older gentleman, African-American, maybe pushing late 40’s early 50’s, who had been doing like work for much of his life.  We hung out together all week, doing as little as possible, just talking about Real Quiet and his chance at history.  He did most of the talking, but his enthusiasm for witnessing a Triple Crown winner was infectious.  You almost felt that he trained the horse himself, or at least had more of a stake in the horse than your average old guy betting at that track.  He was well versed in Real Quiet’s past race results across the country.  Races he’d won well before his victorious runs at the year’s Derby and Preakness.  He began to sell me hard on this horse.  He spoke with conviction that Real Quiet would win hands down and this horse was more special than any horse since Affirmed.  I didn’t care whether or not he was throwing bullshit my way, not in the least bit, I just enjoyed speaking with someone who had such passion for horse racing, plus the hours at the construction site passed by with ease.

He talked me into betting on Real Quiet, “easy money” he would say to me all week.  So on Saturday I headed down to Ellis Park, and placed everything I earned that week on Real Quiet to win.

Alan:  In 1998 I was living in Northern California, we had some friends who were “horse people” and the Triple Crown events were a big deal with them.  They went all out, making the signature drinks, betting pools, and lots of horse-talk.  I like horses ok, I guess.  Actually, that’s not true; I’m not a big fan of horses.  They freak me out.  Any animal that large, and that skittish, is not an animal I want to be around.  Have you ever been around a horse and its handler?  Have you been advised of all the rules?  Don’t walk behind them, don’t startle them, don’t approach from their blind spot, don’t make any sudden movements, don’t talk too loudly, don’t stare directly into their eyes or they might rise up on their hind legs and pummel you to death with their hooves that we’ve gone ahead and reinforced with steel just in case they might want to.  So yeah, I didn’t have a lot to contribute to the horse conversation; I mostly just sat around, sucked down mixed drinks and waited for the race to start.

I’m always astounded at the way horse people talk about the races and horses.  You hear words like magnificent, majestic, grace and beauty.  They treat them with such awe and respect, speaking with the kind of reverence usually reserved for conversations involving large sums of money or very beautiful woman.  They converse in very serious tones when discussing the track, the race and which horses have the most potential.

Then the race starts.

These respectful, awe filled horse nerds transform into snarling, seething fanatics.  They yell at the screen, their faces gnarled and red.  They slosh their drinks and gesture frantically at their companions and the horses.  They scream and froth and curse the gods, the jockey, the track and the horse.  Mercifully, this lasts but a minute, and afterwards we’re left with a room full of people panting and sweating, well spent after their short, but furious, burst of unbridled emotion.  Spills are cleaned up; money exchanges hands, and eventually the genteel expressions return to the slightly befuddled faces of the previously respectful bunch.

Alex: Like many of you out there, I am your average horse racing fan.  Basically, I watch the three main legs of the Triple Crown and that is most likely it for the year.  I am not a diehard fan of watching 5″2 Oscar ride a massive thoroughbred around a circular track, but the simple fact there are only three main races during the entire year makes it easy for me understand, watch and enjoy.  Now with a Triple Crown on the line this Saturday at the Belmont Stakes, the stakes are as high as ever to cure this 34 year old drought.

Why should you take the time to watch I’ll Have Another attempt to take home the Triple Crown on Saturday?  First of all, you have a chance to watch history if he can do it.  If you miss this one, who knows, maybe you will have to wait until 2046 for the next Triple Crown winner.  Another reason to watch is the race seriously takes about two minutes.  This is not your typical four hour baseball game where you day dream 75% of the time.  It is an intense race that will get you to the edge of your seat if you watch it.  Trust me, I might have even given the 2 inch Phil Mickelson vertical leap in excitement after I’ll Have Another came back to win The Preakness three weeks ago (I didn’t even have any money on it!).  Do not waste your entire Saturday afternoon watching the prerace coverage and all the overdone analysis though.  Making a friendly bet with someone will also make the race all the more exciting as you helplessly scream for your big old Thoroughbred to sprint faster down the final stretch.

Matt:  One of things I miss about living in Southern Indiana was the close accessibility to a race track.  My final summer before I moved away for good was mostly spent at the track.  I had a little more discretionary money working as a waiter/bartender at the newly opened River boat casino facility in downtown Evansville.

Ellis Park is no different than most tracks across this country.  The weekday clientele is the same, especially if you were like me that summer.  Instead of messing with larger crowds on the weekend, I would go to the track Tuesdays through Thursdays when no one outside of the regular old men was present, with the occasional business man betting for a reason other than enjoyment. ..  Smoke, beer, and claim tickets littered the parks surface.  You could sit anywhere in the park.  I typically attended alone, killing hours before heading to work, hoping like hell to hit on a boxed trifecta.

Alan: I spent part of two summers in Indiana when I was 17 and 18 years old.  A friend of mine lived out there, and her brother and I took the opportunity to visit her and spend time in a different state with no real parental supervision.  I mostly remember drinking very tall Tom Collins by the pool and being very excited that I could buy liquor in a drive thru.

My other lasting memory is visiting Churchill Downs.  I had seen the Derby plenty of times on TV and I had a very distinct impression of what a visit to the tracks was going to be like.  Boy was I wrong.  There were no southern ladies in fancy hats, or men in seersucker suits.  There was no pageantry or fanfare.  There were old men, cigarettes, sticky floors, and the smell of spent liquor and beer.  There were old women with tobacco stained fingers pouring sickly green fluid from taps into plastic cups for the odd tourist wanting the signature drink. (You’ll often hear folks tell you that the sickly green sludge they serve up at Churchill Downs is not the true Julep.  Don’t spend your money on that shit, you need to have a true Julep to really appreciate its flavors, they say.  A real Mint Julep isn’t green.  It’s just whiskey, simple syrup, and mint, and if made correctly, it’s a great drink.  They’re partly right, that shit they serve at Churchill Downs is toxic, but the true Mint Julep is only marginally better.  It’s a gross fucking drink that lives on because it is disgusting.  Much like a race track…).

There was a pervading sense of sadness and desperation made more acute by the short minute of hope and possibility tied into the excitement that each quick race brought.  The frustration that settled in after a race was over, got heavier and heavier as the day wore on, best expressed by the many torn and trampled betting slips that were ground into the grime and concrete of the Churchill Downs floor.

Not for me though, I was a big winner both times I visited and was served beer every time I ordered, never being asked to produce an ID.   To this day, the smell of old beer, old people and horses makes me think of money.

Alex: Will a 10 year old on his paper route next week yell out, “I’ll Have Another!” as he takes off down the road?  That would be awesome if he did and I am sure it might even raise an eyebrow or two.  Can you imagine that kid come college time?!  Tune in to NBC around 6:15 pm EST for the chance to watch history through what promises to be an electric atmosphere!

These days Republicans and Democrats are about as separated as the gap between Michael Strahan’s teeth, but I think we can ALL agree that it is time for this 34 year old drought to end.  Time for history to repeat itself as I’ll Have Another is going to win the Belmont Stakes and seal the deal for the 2012 Triple Crown!

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  1. Yourn

    I love the Derby. I mean I truly love it. I never miss it. I don’t watch any other horse racing. I hit on IHA at 15:1 this year….first time ever. I was really excited about tomorrow but alas it doesn’t happen. I am very thankful he didn’t go though. The thought of seeing another Barbaro from 2006 hurts to even think about.
    BTW- I’ve emailed you guys a snapshot of a rant at WXII in 2003 when they didn’t show the Derby for local radar. Funny shit.

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