Colonel John's Travers victory Saturday was an object lesson in what makes horse racing such a great sport. Even the jockeys didn't know who won as they crossed the wire -- Robbie Albarado was so sure that his horse Mambo in Seattle was the winner he raised his whip in triumph. But close plays aren't decided by umpires in horseracing and the photo finish showed that Garret Gomez had Colonel John's nose down at the right moment in the head-bobbing finish to the Travers, which lived up to its reputation as one of America's great races.
By the way, can we please stick a fork in Pyro once and for all? This perennial moneyburner finished third as the once again overbet favorite. His reputation was made by running past a herd of goats in the Louisiana Derby in a finishing time that was a second slower than the filly stake on the same day. He tanked in the Derby, skipped the Preakness and Belmont, and came into the Travers favored off a second-place finish in the Jim Dandy. Trainer Steve Asmussen has tried to link this horse to Horse of the Year Curlin ever since he paired them in workouts this past winter at Fair Grounds. Curlin is special, although he's burned a lot of money in big races too (last year's Belmont, for instance), but Pyro is just another one run horse who needs to have inferior runners falling apart in front of him to make the finish line in time.
Here's a suggestion for a real Triple Crown. Toss the Preakness, which is run too close to the Kentucky Derby and has lost most of its historic luster, and replace it with the Travers, a true test of champions. The Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes would stretch the series out to give horses enough time to run a true effort. Right now the crown rewards a horse that can be at peak form over a five week period. By making the Travers the third leg the saga would play out over three and a half months and the Midsummer Derby, already a great race, would crown the champion. British racing stretches its Triple Crown across the breadth of the racing season. There's no reason why it can't be done here. As for tradition, if you look back to the early days of the Triple Crown the races were juggled around a number of times.