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Rich Strike absence from Preakness reignites spacing debate with Triple Crown races

The decision by Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike's owner Rick Dawson to skip the Preakness “reignited a decades-old debate about the spacing of the Triple Crown series,” which many horsemen and racing analysts see as “out of step with modern practices,” according to Childs Walker of the BALTIMORE SUN. Dawson and trainer Eric Reed have said that if they "had a month to prepare for the second jewel of the Triple Crown instead of the traditional two weeks," Rich Strike “would be on his way to Baltimore.” Healthy Derby winners "typically don't bypass the Preakness," and it has not happened since ’85. NBC racing analyst Randy Moss noted that most current trainers “prefer to wait a month or more between races.” That would mean an "early-June Preakness" and a "Belmont Stakes run closer to July 4." But with “no overarching authority to mandate reform,” such change is “easier said than done, and plenty of people in the sport are reluctant to alter a tradition.” For the Triple Crown calendar to change, officials from 1/ST Racing, the forward-facing arm of The Stronach Group, which owns and operates Pimlico Race Course, and the NYRA, which operates the Belmont Stakes, would have to “agree on a new timeline.” Preakness organizers "have an incentive," as the field "suffers every year because trainers are reluctant to run their Kentucky Derby contenders on two weeks’ rest." But the allure is “less obvious” for New York racing officials, who “annually welcome talented horses that have skipped a trip to Pimlico in favor of resting up for the Belmont Stakes.” American Pharoah and Justify “put this conversation on hold” when they won Triple Crowns in ‘15 and ‘18. But Rich Strike’s withdrawal from the Preakness “revived the same issues in a slightly different context” (BALTIMORE SUN, 5/19).

GIVE OR TAKE: In Louisville, Tim Sullivan noted last year, only three of the 19 Derby horses “raced in the Preakness,” but no horse “ran in all three races.” Sullivan said that it is at least arguable that adding time between races could “make the Triple Crown more difficult because it would likely lead to stronger fields for the Preakness and the Belmont.” Tradition, too, is “not intractable.” The Preakness has “preceded the Derby 11 times in its history” and has “twice been run on the same day.” The Belmont’s distance “fluctuated until it was fixed” at 1 ½ miles in ’26 (Louisville COURIER JOURNAL, 5/15).

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