Winners and losers from the 2005 Triple Crown, the last one sponsored by VISA...
Winner--Oaklawn Park, whose series of prep races served up the star of the Triple Crown for the second consecutive year. Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont (gr. I) Stakes winner Afleet Alex raced three times at the Arkansas track, just as Smarty Jones, the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness winner, did in 2004. Another winner was the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), which produced four of the top six finishers in the Kentucky Derby--including winner Giacomo--after being maligned as a weak contest by speed-figure afficionados.
Loser--Gulfstream Park's revised schedule of races for 3-year-olds, highlighted by a Florida Derby (gr. I) moved from mid-March to early April. None of the top five finishers in any Triple Crown event raced over Gulfstream's newly configured track in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) or Florida Derby. Only three horses from those two races competed in any Triple Crown race, and the best finish was Noble Causeway's sixth-place effort in the Preakness.
Winner--Horses with top-class 2-year-old form and a schedule of three or more prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Afleet Alex was rated at 124 pounds on the Experimental Free Handicap, two pounds below Eclipse Award winner Declan's Moon and Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Wilko. Giacomo was assigned 122 pounds on the Experimental. Both Afleet Alex and Giacomo had three prep races this year going into the Triple Crown.
Loser--Horses who were late starters as 2-year-olds or were babied by their trainers in the months leading up to the classics. Derby favorite Bellamy Road had just two preps this year, and no horse since Sunny's Halo in 1983 has won the Derby with fewer than three. Bandini, third choice in the Derby wagering, was a late-developer who raced once at two and broke his maiden in January.
Winner--An unconventional approach to training. Tim Ritchey, with his first Triple Crown candidate, was questioned by some horsemen about his "two-a-day" regimen for Afleet Alex that had him bringing the horse out to train twice many mornings. Instead of mimicking how other trainers brought their horses up to the Derby, veteran horseman Ritchey spent time getting to know his horse and ended up writing the book on unconventional, yet effective, training methods.
Loser--The old guard that dominated the last 15 years of the Triple Crown--D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert, and Nick Zito--had one horse from 15 starters (11 of them Zito's) hit the board in the three races. Zito-trained Andromeda's Hero finished second in the Belmont.
Winner--Racing partnerships that can have a whole lot of luck with a little bit of investment. What are the odds of a partnership of mostly neophyte horse owners coming up with a near-Triple Crown winner with the first horse they own? That's what happened with Afleet Alex and his owners, the Philadelphia-based Cash is King Stable, whose story is every bit as compelling as the partnership that raced Derby-Preakness winner Funny Cide two years ago.
Loser--The big-spending owners who can corner the market on the best-looking and best-bred yearlings and 2-year-olds but whose money can't buy them luck.
Winner--Horse racing's integrity. After years of rumor and innuendo about cheaters winning our biggest races, racing commission and track officials in Kentucky, Maryland, New York, and elsewhere have begun to take pre-race security, medication, and drug-testing very seriously.
Loser--When questions about the sport's integrity are removed, there are no losers. Horsemen, fans, and the Thoroughbred breed are winners as a result.