Answer Man: The facts behind the Belmont controversy

News-DemocratJune 9, 2014 

Steve Coburn, the co-owner of California Chrome, is making a big stink about how his horse lost the Triple Crown because most other horses do not run all three legs of the legendary trio of races. In fact, he says, we may never see another Triple Crown winner in our lifetime because of "fresh" horses like Tonalist entering just the Belmont to thwart potential champs. I'd appreciate your viewpoint. -- D.G., of New Athens

Seems to me Mr. Coburn might want to hold his horses and study a little history before he gallops off to criticize other owners' intentions.

I confess I'm not a big student of the Sport of Kings. I've always figured the horses themselves couldn't care less whether they finished first, mid-pack or last after it's all over. (Of course, I did root for Feetlebaum in Spike Jones' hilarious Kentucky Derby parody -- "A Mudder's Day Sport Spectacular." "It's Girdle in the stretch! Locomotive is on the rail! It's Cabbage by a head! And Feetlebaum.")

However, in researching five of the 11 Triple Crown champs, I found they had one thing in common: Whether it was Sir Barton, the very first winner in 1919, or the most recent trio in 1973,'77 and '78, they all ran in the Belmont Stakes against at least one horse that had not competed in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. So if Coburn is right, we should have seen far fewer Triple Crown winners -- or none at all.

Perhaps the closest comparison is the great Citation in 1948. After beating five other horses at Churchill Downs, Citation defeated two fresh horses in a tiny three-horse Preakness field. But two weeks later, he raced past seven other entries at Belmont. Five of those horses had not entered either previous race while the other two had entered one each.

And, how do you explain Secretariat's greatness? In the Kentucky Derby, he left 12 other horses in the dust in a record run of 1:59.4. In the Preakness, he beat second- and third-place Derby finishers Sham and Our Native along with three fresh horses.

Was Secretariat tired? Not on your life. He was saving the best for last. At Belmont, he swept by a five-horse field in a cakewalk, winning by an astonishing 31 lengths in 2:24. Yet, three of those horses had not entered the previous two races, while Sham, his closest rival in the first two legs, faded to dead last.

It was much the same story in the other three races I studied. In 1919, Sir Barton won a 12-horse race in Louisville before he beat 10th-place Derby finisher Eternal in a head-to-heard, two-horse duel at Pimlico. To win the first Triple Crown, Sir Barton then beat two fresh horses at Belmont.

In 1977, Seattle Slew eventually blew by a 15-horse field in the Kentucky Derby and, at Pimlico, topped eight other horses, only three of which had raced the Derby. He polished off his run for immortality by beating an eight-horse field at Belmont, including three more fresh horses.

Finally, Affirmed in 1978 beat three fresh horses in the Preakness and four horses in the Belmont that had entered one previous leg or neither. So, Coburn may want to get off his high horse and stop nagging the horse world about the so-called modern unfairness of a feat that is meant to be difficult.

I always hear about third-world countries, and I figure they're the poorest. I figure countries like the United States are first-world. But who, pray tell, are the second-world nations? -- B.P., of Millstadt

I probably shouldn't give Mr. Putin any more grief than we're already giving him, but the "Second World" consists of Russia, China and all of the other communist-socialist Eastern Bloc states that were in the Soviet sphere of influence.

After World War II, pundits divided the world three ways with the U.S., Canada, Australia and democratic Europe as the First World, the Communist Second World and the remaining 75 percent of the world's population (including Mexico, South America and India) as the Third World.

In the 1970s, Shuswap Chief George coined the term Fourth World to describe widely unknown cultures of indigenous people living within countries or across neighboring borders. The Shuswap -- or the Secwepemc -- are an indigenous people in British Columbia.

Today's trivia

Who is the only owner, jockey or trainer to win horse racing's Triple Crown in the same year with different horses?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: The Colorado state motto is "Nil sine numine," which some translate from Latin as "Nothing without Providence." That makes it the only state motto with the name of the capital of another state -- Rhode Island, which happens to have the shortest state motto (Hope). Many, however, contend Colorado leaders translated it as Nothing Without God (or the Deity) when it adopted the motto. By the way, Illinois' motto is "State sovereignty, national union"; Missouri's is "Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law."

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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