Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guest Post: Is 2012 the Year of the Triple Crown?

By Kelsey Riley

The countdown is on for I’ll Have Another and his loyal legion of fans. On June 9, the plucky chestnut will attempt to become American racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Affirmed in 1978. The press is awash with opinions on whether the son of Flower Alley will complete the elusive hat trick, and while I am not here to throw my speculations into the fire, I would like to point out that the Triple Crown has been trending in racing around the world in 2012.

America isn’t the only nation with Triple Crown fever. England caught a raging case of it when Coolmore’s undefeated colt Camelot ran away with the English 2000 Guineas on May 5. The son of the late great Montjeu has subsequently been installed an overwhelming odds-on choice for this Saturday’s Epsom Derby. He will take on eight other colts over Epsom’s uniquely challenging course while jumping up to a mile-and-a-half for the first time. While this seems a daunting task, a great many European racing pundits have unwavering faith in the star colt. Shortly after Camelot won the Guineas, gossip grew that the Aidan O’Brien charge may make an attempt at the Triple Crown. Believe it or not, England has experienced a longer Triple Crown drought than America. The English Triple Crown (the 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger) has not been won since Nijinsky swept the series in 1970. In fact, the English Triple Crown has gone rather out of fashion. It is a rare occurrence for a horse to attempt it, and many Guineas winners will bypass the Derby itself in favour of shorter contests. Only two horses have doubled up in the Guineas and Derby since 1970: Nashwan in 1988 and Sea the Stars in 2009. In turn, the St. Leger has lost its lustre, and has not been a significant target for top three-year-olds in a number of years. Although Sea the Stars won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2009, his connections opted for a schedule that included the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Coolmore has yet to indicate their plans for Camelot, and while there is doubt over whether he will even get his chance at the Triple Crown, we can dream.

The dream has already come true for Australian racing fans this year, as Pierro became the first horse in eight years (sixth in history) to sweep Australia’s two-year-old Triple Crown of the Golden Slipper, Sires’ Produce, and Champagne Stakes. The undefeated son of Lonhro has serious star quality, and while we’re dreaming, who’s to say he won’t go on next year to win that country’s three-year-old Triple Crown, which consists of the Randwick Guineas, Rosehill Guineas, and AJC Australian Derby? That trio has been won by just four horses, but the most recent winner was Pierro’s paternal grandsire, Octagonal. Pierro has the pedigree to go a route of ground and to improve with age, so it's exciting to think of how good he could be.

Pierro winning the Champagne Stakes

Another nation that has tasted the excitement of the Triple Crown this year is Singapore. Super Easy completed the sweep on May 18 when he won the Singapore Guineas, remaining undefeated in 10 starts including the Three-Year-Old Sprint and the Three-Year-Old Classic. If his courageous win in the Guineas wasn’t enough, the New Zealand-bred’s form was justified when Ato, a horse he has beaten twice, got up to win the Krisflyer International Sprint (G1), the fourth race in the Global Sprint Challenge, last weekend.

Across the map in Japan, three-year-old filly Gentildonna continued her dominance of the female sophomore division when she took the May 20 Japanese Oaks by an easy five lengths. The Sunday Racing colour-bearer was following up on her win in the Japanese 1000 Guineas on April 8, and she looked to be the real deal while stepping from 1600 metres to 2400 metres. The Japanese fillies Triple Crown consists of the Oka Sho (1000 Guineas), Yushun Himba (Oaks), and the Shuka Sho in October. The series was won in 2010 by Apapane. If any horse has the genetics to complete the sweep it is Gentildonna. Her sire Deep Impact took the colts’ version in 2005.

Gentildonna winning the Japanese Oaks.
Courtesy Japan Racing Association

Whether or not it influences anyone’s opinion on I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown chances, the topic is clearly trending in racing around the world this year. It is interesting to observe how the various Triple Crowns are perceived in different countries, and it is important to note that some of these series have been altered over the years, or have otherwise become insignificant. Regardless, it is exciting to see so many equine stars around the world. If anyone knows of any current Triple Crown stories that I haven’t listed, please share them.       

-- Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start program. She will join the TDN staff in July.

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