Early Voting Wins “Chicken Preakness”

On March 3, 1966, Buckpasser came again in the stretch to edge Abe's Hope by a nose in the Flamingo Stakes, run at now-decommissioned but still-standing Hialeah Park in South Florida.

The race became known as the "Chicken Flamingo" because track management refused to conduct any wagering on the race, as they feared a massive "minus pool" because the coupled entry of Buckpasser and Stupendous — both were owned by Ogden Phipps — would have gone off at shorter odds than the 1-20 minimum payout ($2.10 for a $2 bet) adhered to at essentially all racetracks in North America.

This past Saturday, after all the "votes" had been counted, Early Voting won the 147th running of the Preakness by "a length and a tail" over Epicenter, who had also finished second in the Kentucky Derby, in which Early Voting did not run, not having raced since finishing second himself, a neck behind Mo Donegal, in Aqueduct's Wood Memorial, run four weeks before the Derby (within the adult memory of this observer, the Wood Memorial was run two weeks before the Derby).

But where was the Derby winner, Rich Strike?

That horse's connections elected to skip the Derby, choosing instead to await the Belmont Stakes, which will be run on June 11.

The last time a Derby winner took a pass on the Preakness, when an injury to the horse or other extenuating circumstances did not pertain, was in 1985, when Derby winner Spend A Buck was a no-show at Pimlico.

Why would the ownership of any horse who won the Derby abandon all hope of winning the Triple Crown so cavalierly?

The story began seven decades ago, when a prized stallion by the name of Nasrullah, bred in Ireland, was purchased by Arthur Hancock, owner of the prestigious Claiborne Farm (where Buckpasser was both born, and died) in Kentucky. While a few of Nasrullah's descendants did manage to win such races as the Preakness and even the Belmont, the vast majority of them were sprinters, prompting Dr. Steve Miller (not the '70s rock-and-roll artist), the "founding father" of the Dosage system, which classifies stallions based on what distances their progeny most excel at, to identify Nasrullah as a "Brilliant" chef-de-race.

Once Nasrullah's — and his sons and daughters', and their sons' and daughters' — influence on the breed became pervasive, not only did thoroughbred racehorses, and especially, American thoroughbred racehorses, become less inclined to do well at longer distances, particularly on dirt, but they also became more, how shall we say, delicate, getting injured more often, and needing more recovery time between races.

(Another major, and predictable, effect of Nasrullah's influence on the breed has been that six furlongs, the quintessential sprint distance, quickly became far and away the most common distance of thoroughbred horse races run in North America, a situation that holds true to the present day).

In light of these developments, many in the industry have, at various times, proposed that the three Triple Crown races be contested over a longer time span than the "traditional" five weeks — but after first American Pharoah in 2015, and then Justify in 2018, won the Triple Crown (American Pharoah having become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978), such talk was set aside for the time being.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Not only did the pandemic end up lengthening the time frame over which the three Triple Crown races were held, but it also caused the races to be contested in a different order: The Belmont, normally the last leg of the series, was run first in 2020 — on June 20, not only two weeks later than it would otherwise have taken place, but also at the abbreviated distance of a mile and an eighth instead of its usual mile and a half. A whopping 11 weeks later, on September 5 (exactly four months later than originally scheduled), the Derby was run, followed four weeks later by the Preakness.

And did the sky fall?


Plus, since the major prep races for the Triple Crown are already being held longer before the Derby than they used to, it only makes sense for the Triple Crown races themselves to be spread further apart.

Perhaps not over 15 weeks, as in 2020.

Nine weeks sounds about right.

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