As another Triple Crown season is firmly positioned in the rear-view mirror, it seems only fitting to take a look at back at the highs and lows of the 2013 chase that was:
Best Performance: Without question it would be New York Racing Association track superintendent Glen Kozak. After a day-long monsoon on Friday had Belmont Park's main track looking as brown and wet as the Hudson River, Kozak and his crew had the track fast by the 6:36 p.m. post time for Saturday's Belmont Stakes. With all due respect to the equine athletes, their efforts on the racetrack were simply not as impressive as Kozak's.
Worst Performance: Let's just say if Rick Pitino's Louisville basketball players performed like his horse, Goldencents, did in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, then the national champion Cardinals would not have qualified for the FlyByNight.com Invitational Tournament. After winning the Santa Anita Derby to emerge as a leading candidate for the Kentucky Derby, Goldencents was 17th in the mud at Churchill Downs, beaten 49 ½ lengths. They tried again in the Preakness and he was fifth, beaten 9 ½ lengths in a field of nine. As Dick Vitale would say, after that they definitely needed a "Time out, baby."
Best Ride: If you want to know why Gary Stevens is in the Hall of Fame, check out his ride in the Preakness. In a race that had plenty of speed, the 50-year-old Stevens put Oxbow on a clear lead while the other riders sat back and watched. The rest of the way, that's all they did: watch Stevens from behind as Oxbow won by 1 ¾ lengths over Itsmyluckyday. The old guy's still got it.
Worst Ride: Sometimes a horse simply wants to go, but Javier Castellano was along for the ride and has to take the lion's share of the blame for a surprising and ill-advised run by Normandy Invasion in the Derby. A stone-cold closer, Normandy Invasion made a big move on the turn into the teeth of brutal fractions and forged to the front at the quarter pole. He was still in front at the eighth pole but then weakened and faded to fourth in the final furlong . Under a more characteristic run, Normandy Invasion probably would have been no worse than second and might have given Orb some competition in the final yards. Honorable (dishonorable?) mention goes to Joel Rosario for rushing up Orb on the backstretch of the Preakness and staying along the slower inside paths. Had Orb lost by a few lengths, he would have beaten out Castellano, but as flat as Orb looked in the final half of the race it seems Rosario's actions didn't matter much in deciding the outcome.
Biggest Surprise: If you cashed an exotic wager on the Derby, then you can thank Golden Soul for having to pay taxes on it. Sent off at 34-1 in the Derby, he beat out second-choice Revolutionary for second by a length and triggered a $981.60 exacta, $6,925.60 triple and $57,084 superfecta, all with the favorite on top. Adding to the level of surprise at Churchill Downs, in his next start Golden Soul ran like a 100-1 shot in the Belmont, finishing ninth.
Biggest Disappointment: Pretty easy here. After winning the Derby, it seemed like Orb was a foregone conclusion to win the Preakness and a pretty good bet to complete the sweep in the Belmont. He didn't make it past the Preakness. Sent off a 3-5 favorite (he probably would have been 4-5 without the $2 souvenir tickets bought by collectors who figured he would win the Triple Crown) in the Preakness, he was a dull fourth at Pimlico. It terms of odds and hype, you probably would have to go back to Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 to find another Derby winner whose popular Triple Crown bid came to such an early and stunning end.
Best Quote: Trainer D. Wayne Lukas gets the nod for proclaiming after the Preakness, "I get paid to spoil dreams." Love him or hate him, you have to tip the hat to Lukas for speaking his mind and delivering quality sound bytes in a sport that is all too often filled with the standard bland, predictable answers.
Key Trend: Forget past performances, handicappers need to check AARP cards to find this year's winners. The winning trainer in the Derby (Shug McGaughey) was 62, the victorious trainer (Lukas) and jockey (Stevens) in the Preakness were 77 and 50, and the owner of the Belmont winner (Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stable) was 85. Even though there was not a sweep for a 35th straight year, apparently some folks had a good old time this Triple Crown season.
And what are your thoughts on the highs and lows of the 2013 Triple Crown? Leave a comment with your opinions.