Eskendereya Out of Kentucky Derby: Will There Ever Be Another Triple Crown Winner?

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↵If you enjoy horse racing's three most important races like I do, the news that Eskendereya will miss the Kentucky Derby with a leg injury is crushing. Eskendereya was likely the overwhelming favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, wins by a combined 18 1/4 lengths at the Wood Memorial and the Fountain of Youth leading the Churchill Downs oddsmaker to say he would install the colt as a 2-1 favorite. ↵

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↵But Eskendereya will not run in the Derby, and that may make this just one more year since 1978 that no thoroughbred wins the Triple Crown. It may well be time to give up on that dream for good. ↵

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↵The Triple Crown was hard enough when there were superhorses racing in it. Secretariat only won the Derby by 2 1/2 lengths, and only ran the race in it's-still-the-record 1:59:40. Now, thoroughbreds are more susceptible to injury, pushed too hard too early in life. Three-year-old horses, especially, are fragile: Injuries have sideswiped Barbaro and Big Brown in recent years. (It's probably no coincidence that Zenyatta, the consensus best horse in the world right now, didn't run races until late in her third year.) ↵

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↵Derby winners often get beaten by fresher horses in the Preakness or at the Belmont, too. There have been 11 horses to win the first two races of the Triple Crown since 1978, and none have completed the task in New York. Often, that has been because of a loss by less than a length (Real Quiet, Silver Charm), but freak accidents (Spectacular Bid) have occasionally made the last leg too much to ask. ↵

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↵And it's not going to get any easier going forward. More and more, trainers hold horses out of the Derby and run them in the Preakness to maximize sprinters' chances, and run fresher horses in the Belmont for stamina's sake. Different lengths and state-related rules at each of the three races make the task even harder, and the weather can make it worse. ↵

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↵The rise of a lucrative breeding market also cuts into Triple Crown chances. It means racehorses are often valued more for stud fees than purse winnings: Top horses usually don't top $10 million in career earnings, but foals can sell for hundreds of thousands, and it's easier to breed and sell a foal than it is to train a racer. And even the best horses miss on the Crown: Curlin, who knocked Cigar out of the top spot on that list, only won the Preakness in his three-year-old year. With thoroughbreds' low fertility requiring early retirements and narrowing the market of potent studs, breeding inevitably winnows the racing fields and weakens the breeding pool. ↵

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↵The rewards for winning a Triple Crown are still staggering, though, and the prestige of the competition is more than enough to ensure that trainers will still try for it. But add all of the factors against a Triple Crown up -- increasingly fragile horses running the races, constant threat of injury, fatigue or fresher competition in the Preakness or Belmont, and sheer bad luck -- and the chances of taking all three races with one horse seem infinitesimal. ↵

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↵The Triple Crown is as time-honored tradition as there is in American sports. But it is hard for me to believe that Americans born since Reagan was elected President will see one in their lifetimes. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm just saying I'll be shocked if it happens. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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