Where racing needs to dictate change, for the benefit of all, is to spread out the Triple Crown events. Let the Kentucky Derby have May. Move the Preakness to June and the Belmont Stakes to July. The sport has to do something different -- not radical in nature, but what's in the best interest of the public, owners, trainers and, of course, the horses.
Unfortunately, racing continues to delay efforts toward self-improvement and the procrastination is stifling progress.
The scheduling of the Preakness and Belmont is where the focus must be placed. Leave the Derby where it is, the first Saturday in May, but put at least a month between the other two classics, the Preakness and Belmont.
Set them apart. Such a schedule would enhance, not hurt, the Triple Crown. It could, in fact, prove a bonanza. There are more practical reasons to do it than to stay with the status quo, which is why racing hasn't made the gains in popularity other sports achieved.
The president of Pimlico, Joe De Francis, is aware of the situation and says altering the Triple Crown in such a way has been talked about and merits further attention. It's his opinion such a revision would increase the television ratings for the Triple Crown series by merely arranging more space between the three races.
The horses would like it since they wouldn't have so much physical pressure -- minimizing the chance of breaking down -- and this, in turn, would be advantageous to the breeding industry. The risk factor is appreciably lessened.
"I talked about it last year in discussions with the ABC network and my other partners involved in the Triple Crown," explained De Francis. "Things change in sports, like with baseball, basketball and hockey."
And don't forget football, which pushed its championship back an entire month, to late January, so it would have the stage to itself with a presentation called the Super Bowl.
De Francis admits there are positive aspects to altering when the Preakness and Belmont are held, saying it would remove conflicts with the NBA and NHL playoffs. He also insists he can argue the issue "on the other side of the coin," but suggests the genesis for this is his background as a lawyer.
The Preakness head worries what it might do to tradition but, realistically, there is none. Forget it. Racing can do anything it wants with the Triple Crown. Check the record. Eleven times, (the last in 1931), the Preakness preceded the Derby. On 12 occasions, the Belmont was ahead of the Preakness, so there's precedent for mixing the dates.
In fact, the second Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox, prevailed in 1931 when the Preakness was the first, not the second, of the three classics.
De Francis believes an important part of the Preakness is its allure in drawing horses other than Derby participants.
He's right but that aspect wouldn't change. He also says if there were more lead-in time between the Derby and Preakness, the race Saturday at Pimlico probably would have three 1994 Derby horses that aren't coming. He mentions Holy Bull, Brocco and Strodes Creek.
A plan to put three weeks between the Derby, Preakness and vTC Belmont wouldn't work, De Francis says, "because it would mean we were holding it Memorial Day weekend and that would conflict with what is a huge family holiday."
In last year's Preakness and Belmont, two horses, Union City and Prairie Bayou, broke down and had to be destroyed. Serious injuries are an unfortunate part of the game. They'll always be there. But more time between races, an easing of the conditions, would most emphatically alleviate the physical demands on the 3-year-olds.
"Three to four weeks between races seems ideal," added De Francis. "And the TV ratings would probably be better. I'm sure this would be of interest to ABC. I'm not an active advocate for the change, but it's something worthy of further analysis and consideration."
The question evolving from all this is how to make De Francis an "active advocate." No financial costs are involved, only a mere adjustment in the schedule. It's for the betterment of racing overall and makes such good horse sense it needs to be adopted.