HARRIS: Next Triple Crown winner could be long time coming

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The Triple Crown has never been easy to win. Why has it become so much more difficult? People who know a lot more than I do have debated this for years and no one has come up with a strong answer. I do have some theories, though they’re no more viable than anything else.

● The Derby has become a crapshoot. It pays $1.4 million to the winner and allows 20 horses to enter. Secretariat won against a field of 13, Affirmed against 11. Twenty is too many horses for one race and, frankly, a disaster waiting to happen. You get a bad post position draw, get boxed in, get bumped and your chances are gone. Luck becomes more of a factor than it should be and you get some Derby winners who aren’t really Derby-winning caliber.

● Breeding. Have horses become softer over the years? Race horses are fragile to begin with and a 3-year-old horse is still developing. It’s about at the late teen years in human terms. Three races in five weeks is exceptionally difficult.

● Pressure. Horses are very perceptive animals, or so I’m told, and perhaps they feel it as the big day arrives. This is a huge reach, I know. I’m just trying to find some way to explain how Big Brown could look so strong for two races and so out of sorts for one in 2008. He won the Derby by 4 ¾ lengths and the Preakness by 5 ¼. Big Brown ran and won twice more after the Belmont, which was the only time he didn’t finish first in eight career races.

I hope I’m way wrong on this. I hope my son does get to see a Triple Crown winner. I just don’t think so. But, hey, Big Brown was a 1-4 favorite in the 2008 Belmont and lost. The only safe bet is knowing there’s no such thing as a safe bet.

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