Triple Crown changes? Not yet 'Bayou' owner says the races are safe

Despite the leg fractures that cost Prairie Bayou his life in the Belmont Stakes, the horse's owner said yesterday that he thinks it would be "a terrible mistake" to change the timing or distances of the Triple Crown races.

"I think the races are safe. I think the timing is appropriate. I'd hate to see these traditional features changed because of the sudden and unusual events that took place this year," John Ed Anthony said last night from his home in Hot Springs, Ark.


Recent reports have said that officials at the Triple Crown tracks, specifically Joe De Francis, operator of Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness, are considering a plan to space out the races a month apart.

But yesterday De Francis said: "No such plan is in the works. Every year after the Triple Crown, the operators of the three tracks, Tom Meeker [president of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby], Jerry McKeon [president of the New York Racing Association, which operates the Belmont Stakes] and I sit down and discuss the event and talk over how the races went.


"We met in New York about 10 days ago. In light of the tragedies this year [in addition to Prairie Bayou, Union City was destroyed after thePreakness], I don't think we can exclude any concept that might call for change. But we didn't discuss specific changes.

"Certainly, no consensus was reached, and to describe anything specific at this point would be misleading. Right now, it's all blue sky. There might be no change or a dramatic one. But we haven't even set up a meeting to discuss any further."

But De Francis does have some idea of what scenarios he thinks would work.

"Under no circumstances would we run the Preakness on Memorial Day weekend, three weeks after the Derby. We would consider a month after the Derby and then the Belmont a month after the Preakness. It would extend the Triple Crown hoopla, and it might help the television ratings if we got away from competing with the basketball playoffs, which hurt us this year.

"There are strong arguments both way. What makes the Triple Crown so special is that it is hard to do and is backed by 125 years of tradition.

"On the other hand, many major sports leagues have undergone change over the years. Baseball is now divided into many leagues and has expanded playoffs, and that hasn't diminished interest in the sport. There are other examples as well in hockey and basketball."

Anthony said what happened to Prairie Bayou in the Belmont "could have happened if there were six months between the Preakness and Belmont. He could have done it stepping out of his stall. All the professionals that worked with the horse have analyzed the breakdown, and no one can point to the timing [between the races] as a factor.

"The horse had gained weight. He was more professional, fitter and more ready to run in the Belmont than any of the other races. Not all horses belong in the Triple Crown, but he thrived on it. He just took a bad step.


"If you take the longer and wider view of the Triple Crown and look at the history of the races, the injuries this year were unusual and remote. I'd say you just have to throw them out. But that doesn't make it any easier for me personally to accept."

D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Union City, long has been a proponent of shortening the Triple Crown distances -- the Derby is 1 1/4 miles, the Preakness 1 3/16 and the Belmont 1 1/2 -- and spacing them out with longer periods between races.

But Anthony said: "That's the perception he gets from a lot of trainers based in California.

"They don't seem to race their horses nearly as much there as we do on the East Coast. They run them in two or three races, and then ship them to the farm for six months. I know, I raced out there."

Anthony added that if the Triple Crown were run over a two-month period "it would be harder on the horses. It's hard enough now to keep a quality horse in peak condition for the five weeks between the Derby and the Belmont Stakes. What you'd have if you spaced the races out a month apart is a dozen different horses running in each race, and it would ruin the Triple Crown."