Like a brand new custom-made suit, the 2001 Triple Crown is completed and ready to be worn. Go ahead, try it on. See how soft the material is. Check out how perfectly the pants fit. Have you ever seen such a form-fitting jacket?
But now that it's on, something's not quite right. No matter how many times you look in the mirror, it just doesn't seem to fit properly. If the 2001 Triple Crown were indeed a suit, you'd definitely send it back for alterations until it looked just right. But, like it or not, this is what we've got, and we either have to wear it or stick it in the closet and wait for next year's line to come out.
Let's look at this in simple terms. Monarchos ran great in the Kentucky Derby. Point Given ran great in the Preakness, and even better in the Belmont. So, what's wrong?
First off, it wasn't the victories that were bothersome; it was the defeats. As great as each horse looked in the race or races he won, that's how much they were non-factors in the race or races they didn't win. I recently read a reference to Round 4 coming up in the Travers Stakes. Round 4? What happened to Rounds 1, 2, and 3? They were nothing more than displays of shadow boxing. For two combatants, Point Given and Monarchos have basically been ships passing in the night. They probably haven't seen more than 10 seconds of each other in the three Triple Crown races combined.
Finally, the post-Kentucky Derby talk has been mostly about regret and what ifs; about the blazing-fast racetrack, the equally blazing-fast pace, Gary Stevens' ride, and how they all conspired to deprive Point Given of a Triple Crown sweep. Heck, the horse was beaten 11 1/2 lengths. Doesn't anyone remember Monarchos? The last, and only, time a horse ran faster in the Derby was Secretariat in 1973. In the last 30 years, only one horse -- Spend a Buck in 1985 -- won by a bigger margin.
Point Given has gone on to prove he's an extraordinary horse, with the potential to be one of the great ones. But even great horses get beat, and it doesn't require hours of scrutiny and theories to figure out why. If it can happen to previous Preakness and Belmont winners Native Dancer, Damascus, and Nashua, all great horses, it can happen to Point Given. And those horses didn't go into the Derby off only two starts as a 3-year-old, both easy victories against relatively soft competition. Maybe, just maybe, Point Given needed one more start to begin peaking. And if it was the fast racetrack he didn't like, then he joins thousands of other horses who have used that as an excuse. It happens.
As for Stevens' ride, he did what he was supposed to. He was warned beforehand not to let stablemate Congaree get too big a jump on him. If he had taken Point Given far back and Congaree had gotten loose and won, Stevens would have been vilified even more. In short, he was in a no-win situation. You can't put a horse where you want to in the Derby, then suddenly shift gears and take him from fifth to 14th. Some tracks may be fast, but don't feel fast. This one obviously fooled a lot of darn good riders.
No matter how we pick apart this year's Triple Crown, we will be left with only opinions. As for fact, we will just have to deal with the two separate stories that were written -- Monarchos' brilliant victory in the Derby and Point Given's two brilliant victories in the Preakness and Belmont. There is nothing to fuse all three races together into one epic saga, as there was for Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, Affirmed and Alydar, Real Quiet and Victory Gallop, and the four warriors of 1997 -- Silver Charm, Free House, Captain Bodgit, and Touch Gold.
Perhaps one day Point Given and Monarchos will look each other in the eye when both are at their best and provide us with a clue as to what were the realities and what were the aberrations of Triple Crown 2001.