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Since Affirmed's run in 1978, 12 horses have entered the Belmont Stakes with a shot at the Triple Crown — and 12 horses have fallen short. On June 6 at Belmont Park, American Pharoah — winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness — can put an end to that streak.
Jennie Rees, who writes about the races for the Louisville Courier-Journal, joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: Is there any chance this time will be different?
If this horse doesn't do it, people are going to think it's never going to happen so why should I be interested in it?Jennie Rees, Louisville Courier-Journal
BL: Do you think as horse racing has changed that it's gotten harder for a horse to win a Triple Crown — obviously it's been a while since it happened.
JR: Without question, it's much more difficult. Not only is it tougher because there's so many more horses in these races — and if American Pharoah wins the Belmont he will have beaten more horses to win the Triple Crown, easily, than any of the other Triple Crown winners — but it's not just that. It's also harder to qualify to get into the Derby. Training's different, there's this qualification system and because more than 20 owners are wanting to go in the Derby, horses have to do a lot just to get to the Derby and that adds onto it too.
BL: Horse racing has been in decline for many years — we've talked about it numbers of times. If American Pharoah does win the first Triple Crown since Affirmed that back in 1978, what does it mean to the sport in the short and the long runs?
JR: I think it's a short-term blip. In the long run, I think there's fundamental problems that has to do with the everyday product and getting new fans in that it's not going to make a difference. There might be some people that follow it through this run because a horse is going for the Triple Crown but, as somebody said to me this morning, if this horse doesn't do it, people are going to think it's never going to happen so why should I be interested in it? And that's kind of a point, but I think we are going to get the right horse one day — and maybe this is the horse — but it is not going to be the savior of horse racing.
BL: Finally, this week American Pharoah's stud rights were sold to Coolmore. So do his people keep racing after the Belmont or does he get to bask in early retirement as the most expensive horse daddy in the land?
JR: I think he's a short price that if he wins the Belmont he will not race again, and I think that's very unfortunate. I really think that the value — they won't want to risk anything happening to the horse. But this is a terrific horse, and I just think it would just really be a shame to where some people would be really almost sorry that if he can't go on and race then what a tease this was.
This segment aired on May 23, 2015.