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Improbable, winning the Street Sense as a 2-year-old at Churchill Downs, was Chris Garrity’s pick to win the Kentucky Derby.
Improbable, winning the Street Sense as a 2-year-old at Churchill Downs, was Chris Garrity’s pick to win the Kentucky Derby.|Coady Photography/Churchill Downs/kentuckyderby.com
Thoroughbreds

A DQ and a cough leads to a Preakness with an Improbable marquee attraction

Country House becomes first Kentucky Derby winner in 23 years to skip Pimlico; race needs commitment from War of Will to set up intriguing duel.

Chris Garrity

The fallout from the Kentucky Derby started on Monday, when trainer Jason Servis announced that Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line of the Kentucky Derby first but was disqualified and placed 17th, would not run in the Preakness. The other shoe dropped on Tuesday, when trainer Bill Mott announced that due to a "cough," Country House, who finished second in the Derby but declared the winner's by the stewards, was also skipping the race. Second-place finisher Code of Honor and third-place finisher Tacitus are also not running, pointing to the Belmont, which leaves the middle jewel of the Triple Crown without a marquee attraction. As of now, we are guessing that the favorite in Baltimore will be 5th-place Derby finisher Improbable, which leaves the good folks in Maryland with the unappealing task of trying to build excitement in a race with a headliner who has yet to win a race in 2019.

This kind of situation has been brewing for a long time. Put bluntly, the current schedule of the Triple Crown races, which dates to 1948, when the Preakness was rescheduled to fall two weeks after the Kentucky Derby rather than one, no longer works. It could work -- horses can easily handle a two-week turnaround -- but horses are no longer trained to be able to handle it.

It shouldn't be this way, of course. Horses have handled the two-week turnaround just fine for 70 years, as has been proven by the fact that so many horses have run such great races in Baltimore after running big in Louisville. Do you remember the last Kentucky Derby winner who turned in a real stinker at Pimlico? Neither do we. But the reluctance of  trainers to run top horses twice in two weeks only figures to get worse, not better, in coming years. It doesn't seem to matter that while the Triple Crown is a grueling set of races, the fact that the Triple Crown has been won twice in the last four years shows that it is not impossible for a modern Thoroughbred to be able to handle it.

There will not be a Triple Crown winner this year. There may not be another one for many more years. And maybe we are overreacting, and in a few years 2019 will seem an aberration. But we have a sinking feeling that the Preakness may have to change, or it will slide into even greater irrelevance.

May it not be so. For changing the schedule of the Triple Crown, which is still, even after all that's happened to horse racing, remained an iconic event, and an iconic achievement, in the landscape of sport at large, will result in a loss, and probably an irretrievable loss, for those of us who love this great sport.