Although the calendar shows one month down, 11 to go for 2013, for horse racing fans, the heart of the North American racing calendar is upon us. Somewhere, the next Kentucky Derby winner snoozes in his (or her) stall, unaware that 2013 is the year for which he (or she) will be remembered.
The months leading up to the Triple Crown are filled with intrigue, talent and plenty of speculation. Before everyone, including myself, gets wrapped up in the specifics, here are some general thoughts I have for the run up to the Triple Crown and beyond.
1. Let's just get this one out of the way: A Triple Crown winner after a 35 year drought would be more than nice. I have said it before, and I will say it again: It won't "save" racing, but it sure would be fun.
2. May the United States be graced with a horse that gets the whole country excited about the sport like Australia's Black Caviar or England's Frankel did in 2012. I don't mean race fans, I mean the nation. A Triple Crown winner would do it, but true benefits would come only if they raced beyond the Belmont.
3. I have mixed feelings about the point system Churchill Downs has initiated to decide who gets a place in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. This spring may be an interesting … yes let's go with interesting … one.
4. I can't wait to see what storylines emerge as the spring goes on, and I hope smaller operations experience top level success this year. That said, it is important to be thankful for the big guns, too. It might not lead to warm and fuzzy stories, but racing owes a lot to the power players.
5. Hopefully the big names of the 3-year-old crop this year will also make up the big names of the 4-year-old crop in 2014. Too many of 2012's talented runners will not compete as older horses, for various reasons, and that is disappointing.
6. I want initiatives like America's Best Racing to work. It is no secret racing is suffering from low attendance numbers. Trying to bring in young, enthusiastic fans is a worthy effort and educating the public at large benefits the sport as a whole. Hopefully Triple Crown season will help their cause.
7. It would be nice for racing to make national headlines as the result of the multitude of good guys and not because of the minority of bad ones.
8. No matter where you fall on the drugs in racing debate, may open discussions lead to some kind of resolution on a national level.
9. Veterinarians are capable of many great things. All one has to do is research Paynter, one of the most talked about 3-year-olds of 2012, to see that. Although Paynter's connections made sure to credit the veterinary staff, sometimes I don't think they get enough recognition for the work they do. That beautiful, sleek colt you see in front of you very well could have been a sickly foal that needed round the clock care earlier in his life.
10. This is the last year of peace we have before Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra have offspring old enough to race. Passionate fans are fantastic, but I think everyone knows that rivalry runs deep and unrealistic expectations will probably abound. Although statistically unlikely, imagine if both colts end up on the 2015 Triple Crown Trail.
11. For those who are new to the sport, please know that thoroughbreds are far from being one trick ponies. Organizations like New Vocations, ReRun and Second Stride do amazing work, and it is worth your time to learn about what OTTBs (off the track thoroughbreds) are capable of. Their stories are being told all over the place, and they will inspire you.
12. Remember, racing is far more than just the Kentucky Derby. If you find yourself following along this spring for the first time, stick around awhile and see what takes place in the fall, too.
13. May your favorite horse run safe, run fast and run first. Here's to a wonderful run up to the Triple Crown and beyond.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.