Tomorrow, American Pharoah will attempt to win the Belmont Stakes and become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown.
Every year we hear the same thing: Thoroughbred racing is a dying sport. And each year that a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, we hear the same thing: Thoroughbred racing needs a Triple Crown winner to revive it.
But does it?
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Right now, a Triple Crown winner is a novelty. More than half of the people on Earth were not even alive for Affirmed’s win. Therefore, whenever there is the possibility of a new Triple Crown winner, everyone gets excited. Well, maybe not everyone—after a trip to Woodbine last year, my daughter said, “Daddy, I think going to the track is just exciting for adults”—but a lot of people do. A lot of people who wouldn’t normally care about horse racing.
If American Pharoah wins the Triple Crown, the next year there is a contender, you will have a lot of those same people saying, “Oh yeah—that just happened a couple years ago.” Novelty: gone.
Remember when the Boston Red Sox were the cursed underdogs who just couldn’t quite win a World Series no matter what?
When they broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, it was a huge deal and even if you weren’t a fan, you were kind of hoping they would win. But then they won two more Series over the next nine years and suddenly it’s not such a big deal anymore. In fact, the Bosox are right up there with the Yankees on the list of teams fans outside New York and Boston love to hate.
The same will happen with the Triple Crown. There will be massive interest in the winner for a little while, and maybe even a ratings boost for the next season or two, but it will not suddenly make thoroughbred racing the most popular sport in the world—nor will it cure any of the other problems it is suffering from.
As cool as it would be to see American Pharoah win—and I am cheering for him—it is probably better for the sport if he doesn’t.