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Dortmund becomes newest Triple Crown hopeful

Each spring, after another 3-year-old horse fails to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, there is a movement afoot to alter the Triple Crown.

But no one has convinced the host tracks — Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont Park — to either shorten the distances or space the stakes further apart.

If Sal Sinatra, the new general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, has a say, the Triple Crown will stay with the status quo.

Sinatra told the Baltimore Business Journal: “I come from racing. I come from history. I don’t like to mess with that. It takes a special horse to be a Secretariat.”

When I began my horse racing career in 1979 at the New York Racing Association, the sport had had three Triple Crown winners in six years: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). And it looked like loaded dice that Spectacular Bid in 1979 was going to be next.

The media was saying that maybe it had become too easy to win the Triple Crown. This despite a 25-year gap between Secretariat and Citation (1948). Back then, winning three Grade 1 races within five weeks didn’t seem so impossible.

Then as convincingly as it took Spectacular Bid’s trainer, Bud Delp, to say “Spectacular Bid is the best horse to ever look through a bridle,” the horse lost the Belmont. So there has not been a Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Maybe Delp, unknowingly, unleashed a Triple Crown curse. Last year it claimed its most recent victim, California Chrome. Now there seems to be an invisible wall at Belmont Park. It’s about 100 yards from the finish line that has prevented staunch colts such as Smarty Jones, Real Quiet and Silver Charm, among many, from reaching the sport’s Holy Grail.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert saddled two of the colts I mentioned: Real Quiet and Silver Charm. He had a third shot with War Emblem, but that one stumbled badly at the start of the Belmont and lost all chance.

On Saturday, Baffert will start undefeated Dortmund in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. The colt already is an absurd 12-1 at Wynn Las Vegas and 10-1 at William Hill in Kentucky Derby future books odds.

I say absurd because any horse 134 days out from the Derby should be at least 25-1 just to make the starting gate of 20 horses, much less win it.

Dortmund figures to be a short-priced 3-5 to win, but will be conceding valuable experience to the likes of Mr. Z and No Problem.

Mr. Z lost by an inch to Ocho Ocho Ocho in the $1 million Delta Jackpot last out. No Problem won the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar. They won’t be intimidated by the newest kid on the block.

Thus, Dortmund, the next “fastest horse in the world,” will carry not only jockey Martin Garcia but also the heavier weight of being the Kentucky Derby favorite and our newest Triple Crown hopeful.

DURKIN TO RECEIVE ECLIPSE AWARD OF MERIT — Retired track announcer Tom Durkin will receive an Eclipse Award of Merit for “a lifetime of outstanding achievement in the thoroughbred industry.”

Durkin, the longtime voice of the New York Racing Association, the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup, retired last summer after the Saratoga meet.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.

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