I won’t be there.
Despite the infractions and suspicions that follow Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, the horse is bound to do what 11 other horses could not do since 1973 – win the third straight leg of the Triple Crown.
I’ll be writing for the Times that Saturday but from an earlier event – the great soccer rivalry of the Americas, Brazil against Argentina, at the Meadowlands.
Closest I have come to the Triple Crown was listening to the car radio in 1973 while we were heading home from a picnic. Nearly 16 years later, I got to pet Secretariat at the farm; you could feel the ground shake when he ambled over for the cube of sugar. A few months later, the great red beast was put down.
Four times I was at the Belmont when the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness came up short. The expectation has built up over the years, that some great equine hope would put life back into a fading sport, but each time the air goes out of the big barn on Long Island.
I was there in person for Alysheba in 1987 and Sunday Silence in 1989 and Silver Charm in 1997 and Charismatic in 1999.
The worst time was when I got totally caught up in Charismatic, chestnut great-grandson of Secretariat, as he blasted through the first two races. I even drove down to JFK airport just to catch a glimpse of Charismatic ambling off the transport plane.
Late that Saturday afternoon Charismatic blew out a leg on the home stretch, and Chris Antley, the jockey, leaped down to stabilize his mount before he did fatal damage. (see the video above.)
The wait for the Triple Crown went on.
I was in the Alps in 2003, laughing as Lance Armstrong said he rooted for gallant little Funny Cide, who fell short in the Belmont.
A year later I was back on Long Island as Smarty Jones’ stable shimmered with high expectations. For a lovely tableau of the giddiness and color surrounding a Triple Crown hopeful, read the dispatch filed that day by the sports columnist of the Baltimore Sun at that time, local girl named Laura Vecsey:
We stood outside the barn and watched as the gracious trainer John Servis welcomed a small group of nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor. I remember my colleague nudging me as we both had the same fear: Jinx! The next day, Birdstone won the Belmont.
Watching Charismatic fall apart discouraged me from ever committing that way again. I take very seriously the concerns voiced by Bill Rhoden that this dangerous and perhaps callous sport may not deserve the glory of a Triple Crown, but I cannot help it. I still want to see a Triple Crown. However, I may have to settle for hearing it on the car radio, the way I did for Secretariat. Just remember this: I never bet on racing; don’t do anything rash based on my whimsy.
Your comments are always welcome.