Much like watching a traffic light turn yellow when you are just too far away to make it, it became clear with a few yards to go that Animal Kingdom was not going to be able to run down Shackleford in the final yards of the Preakness Stakes.
With Animal Kingdom’s defeat came a palatable sense of loss. Racing will have to wait another year before it can dream of a Triple Crown winner, and the Belmont lost a good portion of its mystique.
Of course, the fact the Preakness was won by a likeable horse helps soften the blow. Shackleford is a stunningly handsome animal, and trainer Dale Romans earned his Classic victory the hard way.
“It’s unbelievable,” Romans said. “It shows that if anybody that gets started in the horse business can do this, because Lord knows, 25 years ago nobody thought I’d sit up here and talk about a Classic race.
It just shows that if you keep doing it long enough and you get the right horses in your hands, anybody can do it.”
Toss in the fact that owner Michael Lauffer co-owned Rachel Alexandra but sold her two weeks prior to her victory in the 2009 Preakness, there were story lines aplenty.
And yet, because Animal Kingdom lost, disappointment flavored the weekend for many.
Although we have not had a Triple Crown on the line since 2008, I think expectations this year were even higher because other divisions are lacking a superstar.
Sure, in 2009 Rachel Alexandra kept Mine That Bird from going into the Belmont as a possible Triple Crown winner, but because she was a filly, it was exciting. There was no doubt that the best 3-year-old that year did not even race in the Kentucky Derby. Instead, she demolished the Kentucky Oaks.
Not to mention, that was the year Zenyatta began turning a nice winning streak into something we all hoped would become a historic one. The big mare lived up to expectations, and her campaign carried North American racing through the end of 2010.
Coming into 2011, the only potential superstar returning to racing was juvenile champion Uncle Mo. Putting all of your hopes on the shoulders of a freshly turned 3-year-old is always a risky proposition, and in this case, racing was destined to be disappointed. Uncle Mo has been battling an illness and missed the Kentucky Derby.
Compounding the lack of a superstar in the United States is the fact that there are plenty of them in other countries right now.
Leading the pack are wonder mares Goldikova and Black Caviar, who are based in Europe and Australia, respectively.
Because of her three consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile victories, Goldikova and her exploits are well known to American race fans. One day after Shackleford’s victory, she kicked off her 2011 campaign by claiming her 13th Group/Grade 1 victory with a win in the Prix d’Ispahan.
Black Caviar may not be as well known in the U.S., but she is an incredibly exciting mare in her own right. Considered by many to be the top sprinter in the world, she has won 13 consecutive races, six Group 1s, and is Australia’s sweetheart.
There is a chance Black Caviar will face Rocket Man, Singapore’s 2010 Horse of the Year, later this year. If that takes place, it will be an international race for the ages.
From the standpoint of a 2-year-old who continues to make good as a 3-year-old, Europe can hold up Juddmonte Farm’s Frankel, who was named in honor of the American Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.
The colt won the Group 1 QIPCO Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket by sixth lengths on April 30 and is undefeated in six starts. Thus far, he has lived up to the lofty expectations thrust upon him by his very name.
Then there is So You Think, a dual Cox Plate winner in Australia. The talented son of High Chaparral is now 2-for-2 in Europe after taking the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh May 22. So You Think had five Group 1 victories in Australia before Coolmore purchased a majority interest in him and transferred him to trainer Aidan O’Brien.
That is just a sampling of the racing that is going on elsewhere in the world. Is it surprising that the American race season so far has been less than thrilling?
But the truth of the matter is we were due for a rebuilding year. The likes of Curlin, Rags to Riches, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta distracted us from the Triple Crown drought but now they have all moved on to their breeding careers.
Plus, perhaps we also got a little spoiled. From 1997 to 2005, the only a year a horse didn’t win two legs of the Triple Crown was in 2000. Six of those went into the Belmont with a live chance to win the whole thing, while the others won the Preakness and the Belmont.
Still, there is a chance that both Animal Kingdom and Shackleford will line up in the Belmont and the year is only half way through. Some horse out there is just waiting to leave his or her mark in the American racing history books.
We just have to be patient.