Monday, June 8, 2015

The Triple Crown

Back when TigerBlog was in the newspaper business, there was a long-standing debate about whether or not the head shots of jockeys should be included in horse racing stories.

Any time there was a head shot of a jockey in the paper, there was one person in the sports department who would wonder why the head shot of the horse wasn't used instead.

TigerBlog has never bet on a horse race in his life. He grew up in the shadow of Freehold Raceway and yet the only time he was ever there was when it hosted a carnival.

He has no idea even how to bet on a race, or how to read the racing form.

For that matter, he's not sure why horse racing ever became a sport, per se. He understands that the horses run and people bet on them.

He doesn't get why it's considered a sport.

What is a sport? It's a physical activity with a scoring system and where a winner is declared.

One question then becomes how much physicality is required. For instance, is bowling a sport? Is it an activity?

Does horse racing fit the definition? It certainly does, except it's the horses are doing the physical part. And were it not for the gambling part, it never would have evolved to what it has become. TB supposes it's because racing results were in the newspaper and in the sports page so bettors could follow along, and from there it became "sport."

Also, do the horses know what they're doing? Are they competitive? Do they know that they won or lost?

TigerBlog has no background at all in horse psychology either. It's an interesting question though.

Not that TigerBlog is criticizing horse racing. He's just saying that he doesn't understand it or why it's such a big deal.

As you know by now, American Pharoah became the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown - and the first in 37 years - when he followed up his wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness by taking the Belmont Stakes fairly easily Saturday. In between Affirmed in 1978 and American Pharoah this year, 12 horses had won the first two and not won the Belmont, until this past Saturday.

TigerBlog saw a replay of the race, and American Pharoah is certainly a beautiful animal. And, TB supposes, he's a humble horse, the kind of horse the other horses wouldn't mind having a beer with.

TigerBlog remembers watching all three Triple Crown races in 1978, when Affirmed edged Alydar all three times. Those were epic horse races.

Maybe the most famous horse race was the 1973 Belmont, when Secretariat romped by 31 lengths to end a 25-year Triple Crown drought. Citation, in 1948, had been the last horse to win all three.

TigerBlog remembers watching the 1973 race in total amazement at how Secretariat destroyed the field. He was so big and strong and fast and moved so effortlessly.

In human terms, TigerBlog also remembers watching Michael Johnson at the 1996 Olympic Games as he ran the 200 and 400. He too was big and strong and fast and running effortlessly. It was very similar to watching Secretariat.

As TigerBlog watched American Pharoah, he thought about who at Princeton came closest to running that way, at least that he's seen.

He didn't have to think long about it.

The answer is Donn Cabral.

TigerBlog remembers watching Cabral at the 2010 Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championships at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City. Cabral, as TB recalls, had a bad cold prior to the race and wasn't even 100 percent certain to be competing.

Instead, Cabral was there. TigerBlog stood right at the finish line, and when Cabral hit the final 100 yards or so, he turned it up a few levels. He was already so far out in front that there was no doubt he was going to win, but his finish was incredible.

By the time he hit the tape, it looked like he was going to take off. Actually lift off the ground.

He was like a perfectly tuned racehorse. Or like Michael Johnson.

Cabral, of course, would go on to be an eight-time All-America, a 10-time Heps champion and the NCAA steeplechase champion.

He'd also reach the 2012 Olympic Games in the steeplechase and make it to the finals, where he finished eighth.

One of the best Princeton sporting events of the last decade was when Cabral would practice - not just compete. When he would run, basically all eyes would be on him.

Anyway, that's what TigerBlog thought about when he watched American Pharaoh. Donn Cabral. Maybe not as big, but strong and fast and effortless.

Oh, and triple crowns?

Princeton track and field knows a lot about them.

The Tigers won nine of them - cross country, indoor Heps and outdoor Heps in the same year - in between Affirmed and American Pharaoh.

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