Don’t go betting a single dollar based on this premonition, but I’ll Have Another is going to win the Belmont on June 9, for this reason:
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.
6/2/2012 04:52:45 am
The nuns were so well intentioned, but it was just a bad, bad omen. Softened poor Smarty up. But, I will have another.
6/2/2012 05:27:54 am
You were all over it while it was happening.
6/3/2012 05:34:54 am
6/3/2012 01:34:38 pm
By George, I was there in 1987 too. Which is important because generally I do not follow four-legged racing, partly because my exposure to the spectacle came from working the garbage crew at Saratoga one summer. And my Dad used to sell hay from our farm to the racetrack. That's no excuse not for you to be there since you write about these races with such grace and understanding and lovely description. However, you did give the proper excuse, you, the incomparable writer of European football. And I shall look forward to it. Actually I turned to your website tonight 1000 percent certain that you would have a post on the first Mets' no-hitter. And you fooled me! I just can't guess what you'll write next in your retirement, unless you tell me as you do in this blog.
6/3/2012 04:03:39 pm
Hansen, I gave it my best shot for the NYT, getting up early Saturday and writing for our first edition (the Bulldog). Didn't want to try to cut the salami too thin by having a separate item on the NYT.
6/4/2012 02:31:45 am
A baseball triple crown would be exciting if it went down to the last day of the season. George, who is dumber, baseball players or horses?
6/4/2012 03:34:26 am
Frank, you know the answer, in two words:
8/20/2012 10:55:46 pm
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.