Once Again, Mid-Atlantic Looms Large in Triple Crown

For the third year in a row, the compact Mid-Atlantic region has a top 3-year-old involved in the Triple Crown races, and the local racetracks are hoping to capitalize on it.

In 2004, Smarty Jones, owned by Roy and Patricia Chapman of the Philadelphia area, won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) but fell short of a Triple Crown victory with a second-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Last year, Afleet Alex, owned by Cash is King Stable, members of which are based in the Philadelphia area, finished third in the Derby but then won the Preakness and Belmont.

John Servis, trainer of Smarty Jones, was based at Philadelphia Park in Bensalem Township, Pa., while Tim Ritchey, trainer of Afleet Alex, was based at Delaware Park in Stanton, Del.

This year, Barbaro, owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson of West Grove, Pa., not far from the Delaware and Maryland borders, is shooting for the Triple Crown off his powerful win in the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. The Dynaformer colt is trained by Michael Matz, who has strings at Delaware Park and the nearby Fair Hill Training Center near Elkton, Md.

Barbaro. a Kentucky-bred, won his career debut last year in a maiden turf test at Delaware Park. In 2004, Afleet Alex won his first two career starts at Delaware Park. Smarty Jones, a Pennsylvania-bred, won the first two races of his career at Philly Park in 2003.

Last year, local interest in Florida-bred Afleet Alex drew Philadelphia-area fans to Pimlico Race Course on Preakness day, and Maryland Jockey Club officials are expecting a spike in interest in the May 20 Preakness given Barbaro's local connections. Attendance for the 2005 Preakness was reported at 115,318, a Preakness record and the largest crowd to ever witness a sporting event in Maryland.

In 2004, with a Triple Crown on the line and the city of Philadelphia in a near frenzy, it's believed about 10,000 people passed through the doors of Philly Park on Belmont day. The usual Saturday afternoon crowd is about 2,000, with a bump for Triple Crown events.

Barbaro already has a following in the Mid-Atlantic region, so business at local tracks could be brisk Preakness day--and perhaps Belmont day.

"This horse and everybody associated with him have earned a large round of applause from Delaware Park," track chief operating officer Bill Fasy said in a statement. "It was a tremendous victory not only for Delaware Park, but for the entire Delaware Valley. This year is reminiscent of the 2004 and 2005 Triple Crown victories of Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex. The proven quality of these spectacular horses only confirms our region's deep appreciation and commitment to the longstanding tradition of horse racing."

Fasy noted Matz lives in Coatesville, Pa., and his assistant trainer and exercise rider, Peter Brette, is from Fair Hill.

Delaware Park, just off Interstate 95 south of Wilmington, Del., and Pimlico are located a little more than an hour apart.

Though New York isn't considered a Mid-Atlantic state, it's close enough to note that in 2003, New York-bred Funny Cide won the Derby and Preakness for Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Sackatoga Stable, only to fall short in the Belmont. His exploits attracted 101,864 patrons, the second-largest attendance in the history of Belmont Park.

To purchase photos of Barbaro from this year's Kentucky Derby, click here.