Going to the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont never seems to have much to do with horse racing.
They are masses of humanity, gatherings that seem to celebrate drinking, fancy hats or maybe even the warmer spring weather in general.
Growing up near Pimlico in Baltimore, most of the people I knew never even saw the two-minute Preakness race — it was a blink of an eye in a daylong party. The recent Preakness centaur mascot “Kegasus” was adopted purely to cater to this infield crowd, the ragers who often couldn’t care less about who wins, places or shows.
There is a notable exception to this rule, however. Once in a while, a horse comes close to the cusp of the Triple Crown. Then the racing seems to be all anyone can talk about.
That was the brilliance of I’ll Have Another this spring — another hopeful, another inspiration that could get people to set down their beers for a few minutes and pay attention. Many people I heard from said it was the best Preakness in years, and it may have a direct correlation with the chestnut brown underdog who came back to win by a neck.
Belmont was about to be the site of history, where a 34-year drought was coming to an end. Every time there’s been a hopeful, there’s a suddenly beating pulse to horse racing. It’s a part of history that everyone wants to be a part of, that everyone wants to witness.
There were 11 horses that had won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness since 1978, when Affirmed became the latest name in that honored list of Triple Crown winners. I’ll Have Another became the 12th. And when his tendinitis kept him from running the Belmont Stakes, he became the latest to add to the list of those thoroughbreds that fell short.
There’s a definite feel to each race that seems to have much to do with the Triple Crown. There’s the Derby, which brims over with optimism and mint juleps. Whoever wins the race has a chance to go the distance. Then there’s the Preakness, a party that can rise or fall depending on if the hopeful emerges victorious once again.
The Belmont, ideally, should be the crown jewel of them all: a coronation, an anointing of a champion that will live on in the history books.
But as the years have passed, the Belmont has developed a funereal feel — a graveyard for those who would vie for the crown, as well as for the hopes of horse racing itself. It’s been a long time since Secretariat’s miraculous run there in 1973, and the shining moments have been few and far between since.
We all want another: That was the beauty of the horse that had surged to the brink of the Triple Crown. But instead, the wait continues. Saturday plodded on, and the party wasn’t quite worth celebrating.