Nijinsky will probably be the last horse ever to win the Triple Crown in my lifetime or even the lives of your grandchildren. As we know, Coolmore win most of the classic flat races, as boring and repetitive as that is, and they are just too commercially minded to care about winning the St.Leger with a Derby winner, especially after Camelot was soundly beaten in the race. These days it is almost a black mark against a Two-Thousand Guineas and Epsom Derby winner if he goes on to prove he stays beyond the ‘proper’ classic distances. So unless the powers-that-be turn truly radical and run the St.Leger in April as a race confined to 4-year-olds as I have advocated in the past I very much doubt if you or I will see another Triple Crown winner. You might as well leave the term ‘Triple Crown’ to the Americans.
There is an idea going around my head at the moment that when flushed out and given consideration by the great and the good of the sport might if given a run for its money reverse both the decline in the concept of the Triple Crown and the fortunes of the world’s oldest classic. Indeed if my radical idea ever came into being the oldest classic would stop being a classic!
My suggestion is that either a ‘new classic’ is invented, a race more in keeping with the mindset of the present day top owner/breeders, or one of the established races is elevated in status to that of a classic. I prefer the latter.
A series of races that constitute a Triple Crown that begins in late April or early May, peaks in early June and yet doesn’t reach a conclusion until late September is a flawed concept, especially when the last race in the series is dwarfed in both prize-money and esteem by two other races and by a Breeders Cup meeting held on a different continent.
Because times have changed and new races are elevated in prestige above the Leger the race is nowadays little more than a consolation prize for horses that are shy of being true Group 1 material. It is not even a recognised stepping stone toward the big Cup races of the following season, which logically it should be. As with so much that is part and parcel of the racing fixture list something needs to be done. And I have a solution that goes against my radical idea to run the race in April as a race for four-year-olds.
I know trainers will howl at the suggestion that the Eclipse should be restricted to three-year-olds, reminding us that it is traditionally the first clash of the generations. But if any of the present Group I’s is best fitted to be upgraded to classic status it is the Eclipse. It is situated in the calendar at the right time of the year and is over the most appropriate distance for modern-day owner/breeders, 1-mile and 2-furlongs.
What I propose is a Triple Crown of classic races comprising the 1-mile, 2,000 Guineas, the 1-mile 4-furlong, Epsom Derby and 1-mile 2-furlong, Eclipse Stakes. The classic races done and dusted by the middle of summer.
And what of the poor beleaguered Doncaster St.Leger, you may ask? Make it a more valuable race than either the Arc or the Champion Stakes and open it up to all ages. As the most valuable race run in Great Britain and run over what is nowadays quite a distinct distance, at least as far Group I’s are concerned, the St.Leger would regain its noble, standout place in the British racing calendar. For too long the St.Leger has been left to drift into seclusion. It is in many ways a lesser classic, as is the case with the Irish version. Indeed the money the St.Leger has earned the lads from Coolmore over the years in prize money, stallion shares and stallion fees, they could give something back by sponsoring this newly polished and reinvigorated Group 1. Indeed this new St.Leger could become the third leg of an older horses Triple Crown comprising the Coronation Cup, King George & Queen Elisabeth and St.Leger.
Of course I don’t expect this radical suggestion to be acted upon, though I do not see the harm in debating it, and I appreciate that financially it is a big ask to find a sponsor willing to pump millions into a revamped old warrior like the St.Leger, without the added increase in prize money the Eclipse would require to make it a genuine classic race. But if you can radically alter an institution like the Grand National, change the tried and tested way of determining the Champion jockey and take the Champion Stakes from its natural home in an attempt to make sense of a ‘Champion’ series that by October most people have tired of, then you can create a ‘new classic’ and give pride back to and old and dear friend.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.