Triple Crown winners oppose change

May, 27, 2014
May 27
4:35
PM ET

Pimlico president Tom Chuckas had his say last week, announcing he wanted to extend the Triple Crown from May into July.

If he's wondering how the connections of past Triple Crown champions stand on the matter, he received a rather emphatic and negative response Tuesday.

"It's not fine with me," said Penny Chenery, the famed owner of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference with the owners, jockeys and trainers of the last three Triple Crown winners. "It would invalidate all the records, all the times. It would make it an entirely different event. I know it's hard to win, but I think California Chrome has a good chance [to win it this year]. I'm against [the changes]. I'm a traditionalist.

"

It would invalidate all the records, all the times. It would make it an entirely different event. I know it's hard to win, but I think California Chrome has a good chance. ... I'm a traditionalist.

" -- Penny Chenery, owner Secretariat
"The feeling is that people will lose interest [without a Triple Crown winner], but I think it makes it a more interesting challenge."

Chuckas spoke a couple of days after California Chrome won the Preakness to keep alive his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. In the background was the fact that only two other horses from the Kentucky Derby ran in Pimlico's middle leg of the Triple Crown and that four of the last five Belmont Stakes winners have raced in the Derby but skipped the Preakness and captured the final leg of the series on five weeks' rest.

Chuckas proposed moving the Preakness to the first weekend in June and the Belmont to the opening weekend of July to create more beneficial spacing for a Derby winner, but those attached to the last three Triple Crown champions want no part of altering the current three-race, five-week structure.

"It would be awful," said Patrice Wolfson, co-owner of Affirmed.

"[The Triple Crown] is wonderful. It's a unique set of races. It would not work [to change it]. It's such a special group of races, and the timing is perfect and a horse has to be up to it. It's super the way it is, and nobody should ever think of changing it under any circumstances."

Affirmed's rider during the Triple Crown chase, Steve Cauthen, was equally insistent.

"If you change it, it isn't the same. It doesn't count," Cauthen said.

Dr. Jim Hill, co-owner of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, agreed that a change would taint the accomplishment of future winners.

"It's a special thing, and racing needs a special thing," Hill said. "We're trying to make super horses, and I think it takes not only an exceptional horse to win all three races, but great training and management and good luck. All those things should go together, and I don't think the task should be lessened at all. I'm not for it at all."

Seattle Slew's trainer, Bill Turner, the only living trainer of a Triple Crown winner, raised concerns that a change would open the door for lesser horses to match the accomplishments of the sport's all-time greats.

"

You change the campaign and you give a chance for a lesser horse to compete. Well, that's not what it's all about. It's about breeding a better horse.

" -- Bill Turner, Trainer Seattle Slew
"The whole idea of the Triple Crown is you have to breed a horse that can perform with speed and stamina and also have the mindset to withstand the pressure of the campaign," Turner said. "You change the campaign and you give a chance for a lesser horse to compete. Well, that's not what it's all about. It's about breeding a better horse."

Ron Turcotte, Secretariat's jockey, offered the opinion that a longer series would diminish fan interest.

"If they stretch it out into three months," he said, "I don't think there will be the same interest in the Triple Crown."

Jean Cruguet, the rider of Seattle Slew, talked about the opportunity the Triple Crown provides to create a special horse.

Cauthen mentioned the possibility of reinstituting a bonus for participants. He said a Triple Crown sweep by California Chrome might encourage a sponsor to come on aboard to fund it.

Yet aside from that tweak, in a sport that's all too often fragmented, there was a united front. If Chuckas has his way, he will not only have to buck tradition, but he'll have some of the sport's most legendary figures pointing thumbs-down at him.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.

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