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Some lament the infrequency of Triple Crown winners; others suggest the historic series should be changed so that it is easier to win.

But I praise the difficulty of the Triple Crown.

Winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes requires a horse of immense talent, versatility, courage, and toughness. The races come too early for some (Kelso), too late for others (Uncle Mo?), and at distances incompatible with the temper of the times. That doesn’t matter.

If the Triple Crown was easy, it wouldn’t be worth winning.

The infrequency of Triple Crown winners makes them more astonishing, more admirable, and more cherished. When they come, the Triple Crown winners sweep the general public into the spectacle of racing. Their daring and dominance bridge the gap between fans who follow the sport every week of every year and those who tune in for a few hours annually with the curiosity of those who watch the Olympics for superstar gold medal winners.

For truly, Triple Crown winners are the equine equivalent of the transcendent human athletes like Mark Spitz or Muhammad Ali.

They become more than sports stars. They become icons of popular culture, in part because there is something innocent and inspiring in their excellence. It isn’t of their doing; it is of their essence.

And one of the important things the Triple Crown also does is to mark a line of division between the few supremely talented and the relatively numerous very good horses who compete for the highest accolade in sports.

Today at Pimlico, we found out some important things about both Shackleford, who is as good and game as he is handsome, and about Animal Kingdom, who is without any doubt a very good colt. I’d love to have a barn full of them, or even one, wouldn’t you? They are talented racers, and through their efforts, the Preakness proved an exciting race, fairly run and gamely fought.

But the line demarcation was there too.

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