What does trainer Rick Violette Jr. think about whether a change in the Triple Crown format might benefit his horse Samraat's chances to stop California Chrome's bid for the first Kentucky Derby-Preakness-Belmont Stakes sweep since 1978?
"It's too late this year," he said.
More horse racing
The Triple Crown's third leg is just two days away. So musings over possibly building more rest into the traditional three-races-in-five-weeks schedule won't go beyond the meditation stage in the Chrome saga.
"Honestly, it would personally help me," said Todd Pletcher, who is saddling two horses Saturday -- Commissioner and Matterhorn -- fresh from sitting out the Derby and Preakness. "It's definitely an advantage" not to go through the entire grind of the Triple Crown campaign.
But Pletcher is among the majority of horse people who consider themselves "traditionalists," with no real desire to implement the theory -- which has been around for years -- of something like spreading the Triple Crown series from the first weekend of May to July 4.
Violette, whose Samraat (fifth in the Derby, held out of the Preakness) is one of 10 challengers to California Chrome's historic bid, is "not absolutely against" an expanded calendar. "But I also don't know that we'd see more Triple Crown winners," he said.
"It's difficult enough to keep a horse at the top of his game for five weeks, and if you start stretching it out to 12 weeks, it gets much more difficult to maintain that high level -- even with the rest in between. And it would change the whole dynamic, like, let's make the basketball net nine feet. So, if I had a vote? Leave it alone."
Regularly cited, as an argument not to meddle with the Crown season, is that "horses have had their chances to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed" in 1978, said Billy Gowan, trainer of Ride On Curlin. "And it was even a little bit harder when Citation won the Triple Crown."
In 1948, Citation captured all three races in just four weeks. Furthermore, when the gap between the Derby and Preakness was widened to three weeks in the 1950s, the sport was in the midst of a 25-year drought without a Triple Crown winner.
So, no obvious cause-and-effect in either case.
"It's one of those things where you'd have to mess with history," Commanding Curve trainer Dallas Stewart said. "But if we had more time, we might get a few more horses in the races. Coming back in two weeks is risky," which is why Stewart, after Commanding Curve's second place in the Derby, held him out of the Preakness.
Only Samraat and General a Rod are joining California Chrome in starting all three Crown events, a typical lack of challengers motivated as much by the need for recuperation as by Chrome's intimidation factor.
As for a hoary tradition, when Sir Barton completed the first Triple Crown in 1919 -- before the three-race sweep was known as the Triple Crown -- he won the Preakness only four days after his Kentucky Derby triumph. So, things do change.
But odds are heavily against fiddling with the current schedule.
"If we get a spate of Triple Crown winners," said Samraat owner Len Riggio, "everyone will say, 'Aw, it's easy.' You never have a big enough statistical sample to say one way or another. Maybe this way gives an advantage to the horse that's the best, too. I'm not a traditionalist. But I would leave this one alone."
Gowan is convinced that "we are going to have another Triple Crown winner." But he is working at having Ride on Curlin prevent such a result Saturday.
"Maybe next year," he said.