By Tony Rini

Special to The Plain Dealer

(Editor’s note: Cleveland native Tony Rini, 71, won more than 2,500 races in his stellar 23-year career that began in 1959 at Ascot Park and Thistledown. His career ended in 1982 when an accident left him with a paralyzed left arm and metal rods in his back. After a year of recovery, Rini began his career as a trainer. He races a stable of thoroughbreds at Thistledown. His son, Wade, is a jockey. He contributed this piece before Friday’s scratch of I’ll Have Another from Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.)

To compare the degree of difficulty between thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown and Major League Baseball’s Triple Crown is interesting. Both are extremely difficult to achieve, a reason why neither sport has seen a Triple Crown for so long.

But I think horse racing’s Triple Crown is not only harder to win, but also as time goes on is getting to be even more of a challenge than being the best in baseball in home runs, batting average and runs batted in.

It’s not just because there are more than 20,000 thoroughbred horses born every year, with a large percentage never even making it to the races, much less to their 3-year-old season when they’ll be eligible for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. It’s that the horse that wins all three stakes must be far superior to its competing crop of 3-year-olds.

The short distances of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes work against a Triple Crown winner. With a huge field of 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby, so many bad things can happen. Even a great horse can be interfered with or blocked.

In 1978, I rode Chief of Dixieland against the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed. Affirmed was at the head of that class in 1978, and so good he was simply toying with his biggest rival, Alydar, in the Triple Crown races. Affirmed still had to be at his best for narrow wins.

Also, with horse racing, injuries are always a factor. Thoroughbred race horses are injury-prone, simply because of the way they’re put together. They have to endure the stress of speed and with a jockey on their back, something the average horse never has to experience.

Some say a trainer or jockey enters into the equation, but horses make jockeys and trainers. A top jockey can give a horse a very narrow advantage, but the wrong game plan can cause a horse to lose. A trainer has a better chance of screwing up a horse by either over-training or under-training it. Usually it’s over-training.

I realize bats and balls are very different than many years ago. So are golf clubs and golf balls, a reason players can hit a ball a lot farther than ever before.

In this era, however, horses in the U.S. are bred for speed — not necessarily endurance, as they are in Europe and the rest of the world. Endurance and speed are necessary ingredients for a Triple Crown winner.

A thoroughbred horse weighs between 900 and 1,200 pounds for some of the really big horses. They have thin legs to carry that large body, with bones that really are not designed to sustain that type of speed. It takes a perfect physical specimen to race against the very best over the short five weeks when the Triple Crown races are run.

I could never understand why in 1973 jockey Ron Turcotte allowed Secretariat to win the Belmont in his Triple Crown year by 31 lengths. Turcotte should have eased Secretariat in the stretch and won by five or six lengths.

Having ridden Our Native against Secretariat in the 1973 Arlington Invitational, I can tell you Secretariat was a completely different species of thoroughbred than the rest of the 3-year-olds that year.

There may have been a couple of clumps of Triple Crown winners in horse racing, including Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). That was 34 years ago.

The Triple Crown is unlikely to be accomplished by a horse of the future.

— As told to Plain Dealer Reporter D’Arcy Egan

Source : The Triple Crown is unlikely to be accomplished by a horse of the future – Plain Dealer

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