American Pharoah is the odds on favorite to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, and would thus win the Triple Crown.
If he does, it’ll be interesting to see if people stop caring about the sport as much, akin to the fear that Boston fans would have no purpose once the Red Sox ended “The Curse.” The feeling here is that it will mirror what happened with the Red Sox, in a similarly positive fashion: Followers will want to see it again because it’s fun to root for and the preferred outcome, but failures won’t be received with the same overwrought air of desperation and letdown.
Generations of racing fans—mostly casual, but still—would witness something they’ve only heard about and seen on grainy videotape. By and large, we won’t know how to react. Seeing people, who’ve never watched horse racing more than three days in any given year, going crazy high-fiving, celebrating, and lying to their bros about hitting a trifecta would be hilariously awkward.
It’s been mildly disappointing when beloved horses like Funny Cide and Smarty Jones fall short. Does that mean when it happens, we’re headed for mild jubilation?
As sports fans, we root for events and stories, so the unwritten code tells us to always pull for a horse going for the final jewel. The thing that makes horse racing different is there’s no attachment. If American Pharoah wins, few will follow the remainder of his career or check up on the foals he’ll inevitably sire for a half million a pop. But we’ll gleefully spill beer on ourselves when it happens and someday tell our grandkids we watched it…at a bar in New York City…even though tickets were available for $25 and the race was run about 20 miles away…but who cares, it was awesome and we saw it!
If he wins, will we care even remotely as much the next time a horse takes the first two legs? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. That’s not to diminish the sport, but more to reinforce our commitment to its fleeting nature and our interest being piqued as long as you’re selling a great horse with a story behind it.
We’ll continue to talk ourselves into the most exciting two minutes in sports, and by law then have to watch the Preakness to see if we need to carve out the mental capacity to care for three more weeks. It’s a race. It generates bundles in gambling. It’s quick enough to come and go without the nation’s attention span fading like War Emblem or California Chrome down the stretch. It doesn’t matter if American Pharoah wins—we’ll keep coming back for more, a few Saturdays a year at a time. If he does win, next time we’ll want a better horse, one who runs faster times, wins by bigger margins, and has an even better story.
The most certain thing about the Belmont is that no one has any true idea if American Pharoah will win. He vanquished the two Derby runners up in the Preakness, and will now face three other horses that ran top seven in the Derby and skipped the Preakness. As Steve Coburn incoherently reminded us last year, when horses denied glory in the Derby skip the Preakness to spoil the Belmont, it makes a helluva time for the horse going for the treble. That’s partly why we haven’t seen it done in so long, and why we’ll all assume it’s so impressive if and when it actually happens.
If American Pharoah wins the Belmont Stakes, it will have a monumental impact on the sport of thoroughbred racing. As for us? We’ll be the same. Like Jerry Seinfeld once told us, why should we care so much if we’re not even sure the horses care?