Preakness Could Help Solidify Barbaro's Crown Hopes
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED; I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
It's been 28 years since horse racing has had a Triple Crown winner. In recent years some horses have come close, including Funny Cide and Smarty Jones, and this year it could be Barbaro. He races tomorrow in the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.
It's Friday and that means sports writer Stephan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal joins us to talk about the race. Stephan, first let's talk a little bit about why there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in so long. Is this purely a random thing?
Mr. STEPHAN FATSIS (Wall Street Journal): Not necessarily. There have been 11 Triple Crown winners since 1875 when all three of these popular stakes races, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, were run for the first time. That's about one every ten years, so we're definitely mathematically overdue, but horses are bred selectively these days so they're racing more against genetically similar horses and more horses are trained for speed not distance and the last Triple Crown race, the Belmont, is the longest and that's where the recent candidates have faltered.
NORRIS: Well the hope this year is Barbaro. He won the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. Could this horse go all the way?
Mr. FATSIS: Oh, even money is the line right now, and the main reason is that Barbaro blew away the field at the Kentucky Derby. He won by six and half lengths, and he's never lost a race, even though he's raced in just six races, so just six times, and that may not seem like a lot, but it's not uncommon for a three year old.
NORRIS: Just six times, having races so few times, is that considered to be an advantage or a disadvantage?
Mr. FATSIS: Well, it depends. The horse's never raced on less than five weeks rest, but what trainers do is try to build up a horse's work regimen over time so ideally by now he's ready to go on shorter rest, and two weeks is short rest for these horses. But of course we're not going to know until the race is over whether that strategy works out.
NORRIS: Barbaro has two main challengers, tell us about them.
Mr. FATSIS: Well one is Brother Derrick, whom the odds maker at Pimlico Race Course lists at three to one, and the other is Sweet Northern Saint, who's at four to one. Brother Derrick is seen as the real threat. At the Kentucky Derby he had to start in the number 18 post position in a crowded field of 20 horses, that put him all the way on the outside of the track. He had to slow down a couple of times in the pack, but still he recovered to finish fourth and the feeling is he really didn't get a chance to show his full power.
NORRIS: Stephan you said that there were 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby field but there are only nine entered in the Preakness. What's the story there?
Mr. FATSIS: Well, the Kentucky Derby is the Kentucky Derby. Everybody wants to be there. Win it and you and your horse are stars and you're profitable, and if you don't win it, there's a lot of disincentive to come into Baltimore for the Preakness.
First there are the $20,000 in race fees, there's the cost of transporting the horse. This is not a cheap sport and when there's a clear cut favorite like there is this year, some owners just cut their losses and don't bother to come. The three horses that we've mentioned are the only entries that also raced in the Kentucky Derby.
NORRIS: Yeah, but the purse is a million dollars, isn't that enough of a lure?
Mr. FATSIS: Well it sounds like a lot and the winner is going to get 650,000 of that, but as the Washington Post's horse writer Andrew Beyer notes in today's paper, the Preakness doesn't even make the list of the top 80 richest horse races in the world this year. The Triple Crown races, they depend on prestige to keep horses coming to all three of them, but for a lot of owners, economics dictate otherwise.
NORRIS: Stephan perhaps it's not fair for me to ask you this, but are you a betting man?
Mr. FATSIS: I am not a betting man actually, but when you read as much as you've read about this horse, you do think that the gap that he led, that he wound up winning with at the Kentucky Derby, does make him the prohibitive favorite here. The last two that you mentioned, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, they also did very well at the Preakness. The Belmont was their undoing though.
NORRIS: Thank you, Stephan.
Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.
NORRIS: Stephan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal. He talks with us about sports and the business of sports on Friday.