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The Slow Decline of the Sport of Kings

The Slow Decline of the Sport of Kings The New Republic


Horse racing lives in a perpetual state of decline. Half a century ago, the Sport of Kings had a firm place in mainstream American culture; today, that place is a window of approximately five weeks, from the opening bell of the Kentucky Derby in May to the final stretch of the Belmont Stakes in June. These are first and last legs of the Triple Crown—the Preakness, which is run at Pimlico, outside Baltimore, falls halfway between them. The trifecta of races for three-year-old thoroughbreds is horse racing’s annual moment: its Super Bowl, with big floppy hats. Winning the Triple Crown means winning all three races, something no horse has done since the mid-’70s, when Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and then Affirmed (1978) swept the field.

For racing enthusiasts and those who work in the industry, there are plenty of other important stakes races—the big contests, where horses owners pay fees to enter the race, and the resulting purse is much higher than average. The Breeder’s Cup, two days of racing that move from track to track each October, is arguably the biggest. But for the general public, horse racing starts and ends at the Triple Crown, especially its first leg.

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Yeah, I lose interest after the Kentucky Derby. One horse race a year is enough for me. 

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