Sports most difficult feat? It isn't the Triple Crown

Sports most difficult feat? It isn't the Triple Crown
American Pharoah walks through the paddock at Belmont Park. (Al Bello / Getty Images)

Most of what I know about horse racing can be traced to 1995, when Sports Illustrated sent me to the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes to assist the great Bill Nack.

I visited the tracks at dawn in hopes of gleaning some morsels of info from the trainers, who described the personalities of their thoroughbreds as if they were people.


He is rather aloof, a finicky eater and gets impatient on cross-country trips.

I might have gotten hooked if I had been wise enough to bet Thunder Gulch either time. He paid a whopping $51 on a $2 ticket at the Derby.

Alas, the last time I thought much about horse racing came in 2008. I asked a Derby-bound sportswriting colleague to bet $10 across the board ($30 total) for me on Eight Belles, the only filly in the field. Why? My oldest daughter was born on that Derby Day. Elle.

Eight Belles placed, paying out $85. But she collapsed after the race's conclusion and had to be euthanized. Blood money. Ugh.

Here's hoping that the running of the Belmont Stakes produces a far better ending. And some history.

As you might have heard, the last 13 horses that ventured to New York in quest of the Triple Crown departed with some sour-tasting oats. The list includes some spectacular stallions, such as Spectacular Bid (third in 1979), and real talents, such as Real Quiet (second in 1998).

California Chrome's plight last year epitomized the challenge. Not only are these young thoroughbreds expected to sprint 11/2 miles, they have to outlast competitors that have been at rest.

Hey, LeBron, we're going to raise the basket to 11 feet for Game 7. And the people guarding you have been lounging by the pool all spring.

So you can understand the incredible challenge involved in completing racing's Triple Crown.

But it's still not the most difficult feat in sports.

That would be golf's, well, quadruple crown (aka the grand slam).

Winning at Augusta National generally requires the length to thrive on the back-nine par-5s and a surgeon's touch around the tabletop greens. The U.S. Open winner, at least on traditional venues, must pound the fairways and have the nerve to make 6-footers off the side of a hill.

The British Open often requires fortuitous tee times (because of the weather), the ability to hit 6-irons a few feet off the ground and a trusty rain suit. Win the PGA Championship, and you typically have slayed golf's strongest field.

There's a saying that addresses the challenge of winning on different types of venues: Horses for courses.


If Tiger Woods could not pull this off in 2000 (he finished fifth at the Masters because of an opening-round 75) when he was in complete ownership of his swing and personal life, then no one can.

And think about the sheer number of competitors you have to defeat to win the grand slam … more than 500. Affirmed beat a field of five at the 1978 Belmont, but everyone knew it would be a two-horse race between him and Alydar.

So here's hoping the oddly misspelled American Pharoah gets it done Saturday. But unless the 1,178-pound beauty can reach a 595-yard hole in two, I will not call it the greatest feat in sports. Or the unlikeliest.

That, of course, would be Jay Cutler beating the Packers.

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein