If the NFL ran like horse racing, a team could pass on one stage of the playoffs – just decide not to show up – and still make it to the last big game of the season. There’d essentially be a short-cut to that climactic moment, a bypass around the grueling process of determining a champion that just didn’t seem right or fair.
Wouldn’t the Patriots love that?
That essentially is what we have with Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
There are eight horses in the race. Only one of them, the slightly misspelled American Pharoah, will have run in all three Triple Crown races. AP won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness while trying to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
The others have been standing around the stables cooling their hooves, spending their weekends at the mall and on Instagram while resting up for the mile-and-a-half Belmont challenge. Meanwhile AP has been trying to run three major stakes races in five weeks, an exhausting regimen for which the modern thoroughbred seems totally ill-suited.
When California Chrome’s owner Steve Coburn went on a classic rant last year after his horse became one of the 13 horses to falter in the Triple Crown’s last leg since ’78, he was branded a bit of a whiner.
But the grumpy old man had a legitimate point. He just may have put it a little strongly when he labeled the owner of Belmont winner Tonalist a “cheater” who took the “coward’s way out.” The fact is that horse did not run in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, while Chrome was being put through the grinder.
There are multiple reasons for this epically long Triple Crown drought, but none more compelling than the very rules of horse racing. When the field can pick and choose when to take on that year’s super horse, sniping at him from a well-rested vantage point, it’s a huge impediment to making history.
Coburn suggested the Triple Crown should be a package deal – you run all three races or you run none of them. In one regard, a true playoff system.
By the way, I don’t agree with that. Maybe Coburn is a little whiny. Horses can’t be held to that kind of demand. There have been 11 horses capable of winning a Triple Crown despite the difficulty. Isn’t greatness supposed to be difficult? And, hey, Secretariat played under those same conditions and won the Belmont by multiple truck lengths.
No, I have no major beef with the Triple Crown set-up (although I wouldn’t fight a little more spacing between races).
I just wanted the chance to take another shot at the Patriots.