Print and Go Back News & Opinion [Print without images]

Thursday, May 5, 2011
Updated: May 6, 7:46 AM ET
A Triple Crown for the Cure

By Pete Alfano

Many people are familiar with the pink ribbons that symbolize the nationwide breast cancer awareness campaign. For more than 25 years, Susan G. Komen for the Cure has done an exemplary job of educating women and men and raising money to fight the disease that is the leading cause of death among women worldwide.

Komen for the Cure has even enlisted the support of the testosterone-fueled players in the NFL, who during breast cancer awareness month in October, wear pink cleats, wristbands, chin straps and gloves.

In dozens of cities around the country, the Race for the Cure is an annual event of celebration and hope.

Breast cancer strikes home for me as my mother and two sisters were afflicted. One sister died in her early 40s. So the thought occurred to me that a pairing a struggling industry like thoroughbred horse racing and the breast cancer awareness movement would be a natural fit.

A little research, however, revealed that sharper tacks already had come to the same conclusion. Komen for the Cure has teamed with the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs the day before the Derby. Pimlico, home of the Preakness, has a "Pink" promotion featuring current and retired female jockeys on the eve of the second leg of the Triple Crown.

But why stop there? Let's raise the stakes. Get Belmont Park in the mix and create a Triple Crown for the Cure to be run in tandem with the traditional Triple Crown.

The Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies is already a pre-eminent race. Pimlico would offer the Black-eyed Susan Stakes for the second leg, and Belmont Park would designate the Acorn, already run on Belmont Stakes Saturday.

There would be changes, though.

Fillies and mares would be eligible for the Triple Crown for the Cure because breast cancer strikes younger and older women alike. Horsemen would be encouraged to use female jockeys. An agreed upon percentage of the handle and prize money would be donated to breast cancer research. Saddle cloths would be adorned with a pink ribbon as would the jockeys' silks. I can even envision pink blinkers to help a filly or mare keep her eyes on the prize.

The Kentucky Derby winner gets a blanket of red roses so it would be pink for the winner of the Oaks. In New York, the Belmont Stakes winner is draped in white carnations; how about pink carnations for the winner of the Acorn?

I'm still working on the second leg at Pimlico, where a blanket of Black-eyed Susans goes to the Preakness winner. Channeling my inner horticulturist, I don't think they come in pink.

The Triple Crown for the Cure would increase the attention horse racing badly needs. It would be a natural part of TV's regular Triple Crown coverage and add to the excitement. It would help sustain an audience in the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes if no horse were in position to win the Triple Crown.

As for the argument that three races in five weeks for fillies and mares is too taxing, I'd point out minting a Triple Crown for the Cure winner is not the main objective. Owners and trainers may opt to pick and choose among the three races.

Instead, the ultimate goal is to raise money and awareness about a disease that can be cured with early detection. It's about people plunking down $2 for more than just picking a winner. It's about using the exposure and interest that sports generate in this country to make a difference.