June 5, 2008

In Preakness and in Health, Stakes are High In Triple Crown Derby

Big Brown gallops for a place in the history books this weekend.

The three-year-old colt easily won the Kentucky Derby on May 3rd and, two weeks later, blew away the field in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. Now, Big Brown hopes to capture horse racing's elusive Triple Crown with a win on June 7 at the 140th Belmont Stakes.

A slight crack on Big Brown's left front hoof — detected a week after the Preakness —caused concern in the horse's camp. But the colt was back on the track a few days later after his trainers said that they had successfully repaired the injury.

"Big Brown Hoofs It. Day after Procedure, Rushes Back to Track," New York's Daily News reported on May 28.

If Big Brown is victorious at Belmont Park, he would be the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 30 years, and only the 12th in history to claim the cherished achievement. Affirmed was the last horse to win the Triple Crown in 1978, a year after Seattle Slew pulled it off. In 1973, Secretariat won the three races.

The New York Times used "triple crown" as early as 1894 to describe jockey Fred Taral's unparalleled achievement of riding two different horses to victory in three "great events of the spring racing season": the Brooklyn Handicap, the Metropolitan Handicap and the Suburban Stakes. The term was first used in conjunction with the Derby, Preakness and Belmont races in 1923. Times racing columnist Bryan Field popularized the term in 1930.

In this decade, three horses came close to winning the title. Smarty Jones won both the Derby and the Preakness in 2004 but finished second at Belmont. Funny Cide was two for two before finishing third at Belmont in 2003. And War Emblem was an eighth-place finisher at Belmont in 2002 after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

This year's Kentucky Derby was marred by tragedy when second-place finisher Eight Belles was euthanized at the end of the race after breaking both of her front ankles. The sight of the downed horse brought back memories of the 2006 Preakness when Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro shattered his right rear leg. The horse was eventually euthanized in early 2007.

Sports news, including horse racing, is the focus of the original documentary "Press Box: The History of Sports Reporting," shown daily in the Newseum's Sports Theater.

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