Great Expectations
by Ray Paulick
Date Posted: 5/29/2002 2:34:44 PM
Last Updated: 6/3/2002 2:18:24 PM

Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief

Racing fans from the baby boomer generation were spoiled by the remarkable careers of the three most recent Triple Crown winners, Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978). Maybe that's why the knockers are lining up to take their shots at War Emblem as he bids for the Triple Crown.

All three horses were champions at two, with a combined record of 17 wins from 21 starts. And they completed their careers with distinction, combining for 52 lifetime wins from 67 starts. This trio of champions made the 1970s glory days for boomers.

Preceding the heroes of the 1970s was a long drought going back to Citation, whose 1948 Triple Crown followed a nearly perfect championship season at two, when he won eight of nine starts. Racing's first millionaire retired with 32 wins from 45 starts.

Thus the imposing records of the last four horses to sweep the series raise the expectations many of us may have for how a Triple Crown contender's record should look. However, examination of the first seven horses to capture the Triple Crown may do just the opposite.

Among the seven, only Count Fleet (1943 Triple Crown) won more races than he lost as a 2-year-old, taking 10 of 15 starts and being named champion juvenile colt. War Admiral (1941) won half of his six starts; Whirlaway (1941) was 7-for-16; Gallant Fox (1930) was 2-for-7; Assault (1946) was 2-for-9; Omaha (1935) was 1-for-9; and Sir Barton (1919) was 0-for-6. Their combined record of 25 wins from 68 starts as 2-year-olds gives them a winning ratio of 37%.

War Emblem's record of two wins from three starts at two doesn't look nearly so bad now.

Japanese Breakthrough
Sunday Break's impressive victory in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) did more than solidify the chances of a potential spoiler in War Emblem's Triple Crown bid. The Neil Drysdale-trained colt notched a big milestone for the Japanese breeding industry when he became the first horse bred in Japan to win a graded stakes race in the United States.

Ten or 15 years ago a Japanese-bred winning such a race would have been accompanied by great fanfare. A contingent of racing writers and photographers from Japan would have been on hand, and members of a Sunday Break fan club might have traveled from Tokyo to cheer the horse on.

Such wasn't the case for the Peter Pan. Sunday Break has only raced in the U.S., having been sent from breeder/owner Koji Maeda's farm in Japan to Drysdale before his career debut in California last fall. So the Forty Niner colt never developed a following in Japan.

Besides, Japanese horses winning major races abroad isn't that big a deal anymore in Japan. They've won in Europe, Dubai, and Hong Kong, and it was just a matter of time before they won in the U.S. Still, Maeda called it his "big American dream" to win a major stakes in the U.S. with a horse he bred in his homeland. He's watched Japanese baseball players like Ichiro Suzuki succeed in the U.S., and saw no reason the same could not be true with horses. Maeda has 120 in training in Japan, but Sunday Break is his only runner in the U.S.

Other Japanese horsemen soon will try to follow in Maeda's footsteps. Leading trainer Kazuo Fujisawa is pointing several horses for Arlington's three grade I races Aug. 17, the Million, Secretariat, and Beverly D. Stakes. Eyeing the Secretariat are the two-three finishers in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, Jpn-I), the Kris S. colt Symboli Kris and the Sunday Silence colt Machikane Akatsuki. Fujisawa has the Million in mind for the Seattle Slew colt Matikane Kinnohosi, and the Beverly D. for the Sunday Silence filly Diamond Biko.

Sunday Break will not be the nation's one-hit wonder.

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