Last year we groaned when Funny Cide, another “little guy,” fell short in the Belmont. But “Smarty`s” painfully narrow loss was even more devastating because he overwhelmingly defeated everybody else after turning back the best challenges Eddington and Rock Hard Ten could mount. Smarty ran a hell of a race, but Birdstone ran a monster of a race, the kind of race that he suggested as a 2-year-old but hadn`t produced all spring. Watching the retrospectives on Affirmed (and his nemesis, Alydar), Seattle Slew and Secretariat reminded me yet again of just how truly great the last three Triple Crown winners were. Affirmed was all heart. He turned back Alydar three different ways, and when Alydar got his head in front a furlong from home, Affirmed fought back one last time. Seattle Slew had no such worthy opponent, but his power and class made him literally stand above his rivals, and he was the only one of these three who came close to replicating himself in the breeding shed.
But some theorize that Secretariat couldn`t have possibly reproduced himself, that he was genetic freak of perfection, so that, by definition, he couldn`t possibly have begotten another. That`s theory, but the fact is that, 31 years later, his Triple Crown victories look even more astounding. In each race he became ever more unbeatable, culminating it with that unforgettable 31-length runaway in a track record (2:24) that no one`s ever touched.
Still, Smarty looked as if he had what it took to seal up the Triple Crown and join the immortals. He has that all-important tactical speed, the ability to accelerate at any time in a race, two or three times. He showed it in the Derby, when Stewart Elliot used it out of the gate to put him close-up and near the rail on the first turn. It was the move that won the race. And he did it again on the backstretch in the Preakness, before that devastating acceleration as they straightened for home. But 1