A winner of the Kentucky Derby doesn't have long to revel in victory before the inevitable questions begin to surface: can this horse win the Preakness and the Belmont and end the Triple Crown drought? For the connections of Derby winner I'll Have Another, it's time to turn their eyes to the next prize.
There are a couple of misconceptions regarding the Triple Crown held by some of the non-racing public. The first is that each race in the series is longer than the one before. The Kentucky Derby is a mile and a quarter long, while the Preakness is actually run at a mile and three-sixteenths, or one-sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby. The Belmont Stakes is a mile and a half and, incredibly, is the only Grade 1 race on dirt at a mile and a half in the United States today.
The second misconception is that while winning the Triple Crown is extremely difficult (and rare), it's not such an impossible task that horses never even come close anymore. Since the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, 11 horses have won both the Derby and the Preakness, only to fall short at the Belmont. Seven other horses have won some combination of the three races -- Derby/Belmont or Preakness/Belmont -- leaving us with a total of 18 horses that have won two legs of the Triple Crown in the last 34 years. This suggests to me that it's only a matter of time and racing luck before we see another horse sweep the series.
Triple Crown droughts aren't just limited to the last 34 years. Citation and Johnny Longden won all three races in 1948, beginning a 25-year Triple Crown drought. During that stretch, seven horses won the Derby and the Preakness only to lose in the Belmont. Then in 1973, Secretariat came along and dominated the Triple Crown in a manner never seen before, and unmatched since. Seattle Slew and Affirmed won back-to-back Triple Crowns in 1977 and 1978 (the first in history), followed by Spectacular Bid almost completing an improbable trifecta of Triple Crown winners until he shockingly lost the 1979 Belmont Stakes.
Winners of the American Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Horse Racing:
1919: Sir Barton
1930: Gallant Fox
1937: War Admiral
1943: Count Fleet
1977: Seattle Slew
The first task for Derby winner I'll Have Another is to win the Preakness at Pimlico on May 19th. That may seem a bit self-explanatory, but consider this: Since Big Brown lost in the 2008 Belmont Stakes to Da' Tara, there have been 10 different winners of the the 10 Triple Crown races. Mine That Bird, Super Saver, and Animal Kingdom are all Derby winners that failed to win any of the other two legs of the Triple Crown. Preakness winners Rachel Alexandra, Looking at Lucky and Shackleford also failed to win any other legs. And Belmont winners Summer Bird, Drosselmeyer and Ruler on Ice can count the mile and a half marathon as the only Triple Crown race to their credit.
Looking ahead to the Preakness, I'll Have Another will face a field mixed with Derby horses and new-shooters at Pimlico. The connections of Bodemeister, Creative Cause and Hansen are leaning towards running in the Preakness, assuming their colts all come out of the Derby healthy and with energy. The status of Dullahan, Went the Day Well, Liaison and Optimizer is still up in the air, according to the Daily Racing Form. New horses expected to join the Preakness party include Cozetti, Hierro, Isn't He Clever, Paynter, The Lumber Guy, Tiger Walk, Zetterhom, Pretension and Brimstone Island. Union Rags will skip the Preakness after his dreadful trip in the Derby.