2009 The Triple Crown – the Dream is Not Over!

 Professor Gerry McKenna

This year has seen, like most others for the past twenty or more years, the ritual denigration by some commentators of the Doncaster  St Leger and the perceived anachronism represented by the English ‘Triple Crown’. The argument goes along the lines that: the St Leger no longer attracts the top middle distance horses, breeders shun St Leger winners and it is unreasonable , in the modern day, to expect any three year old thoroughbred to excel over the range of distances involved (1 to 1 ¾ miles) in winning the Triple Crown. This line of reasoning is beginning to wear a little thin. The St Leger has had, in recent years, something of a resurgence; most notably in 2008 when Conduit outpointed the Oaks winner and went on to a resounding victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf over a mile and a half.

Breeders aside, the racing public has continued to appreciate longer distance flat races, and this has been shown to great effect recently by the popular celebration of Yeats winning an unprecedented fourth Ascot Gold Cup.

The greatest argument in favour of retaining the Triple Crown as the pinnacle of achievement is to reflect on its last winner, Nijinsky, in 1970. This incredible colt, possibly the best Derby winner of the last Century, and certainly one of the very best racehorses of all time, became an exceptional sire subsequently. This included the remarkable feat of siring three Epsom Derby winners as well as winners of the French, Irish and Kentucky Derbies. His top class progeny excelled at sprint to staying distances. The fact that his achievement has not been replicated is not a valid reason to give up the ‘dream’; rather it should remain the ultimate, if largely unreachable, goal of every breeder, trainer and owner aspiring to produce the ‘complete’ racehorse.

The ‘Grand Slam’ in tennis or golf is generally a forlorn hope for even the greatest of players. Despite this, there has been no equivalent clamour in those sports to write it off as anachronistic or unattainable, or to somehow make it easier to achieve.  Truly exceptional qualities are required in a Triple Crown-winning three year old colt. These include inter alia having the speed to win the 2000 Guineas, the balance and class to win the Derby, and the stamina to win the St Leger. They remain the ultimate, if elusive, ‘Gold Standard’ by which the thoroughbred breed should continue to be judged. It is worth noting that while only two horses since Nijinsky have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the connections of both cited probable stamina limitations rather than breeding valuation as their reason for bypassing the St Leger.

Fortunately, through the current dominant breeding influence of Sadler’s Wells and his sons, Galileo and Montjeu, combining speed with stamina, dreams of seeing another Triple Crown winner are no longer impossible to contemplate.

 Copy of a letter published in The Racing Post, July 2009


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