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Ascending to the crown?

Sports | Will Barbaro break the drought of Triple Crown winners?

Issue: "The Da Vinci craze," May 20, 2006

Smarty Jones couldn't do it. Neither could Funny Cide. Or War Emblem. Or Charismatic, Real Quiet, or Silver Charm. But fresh off a Kentucky Derby win on May 6, champion thoroughbred trainer Michael Matz says his colt Barbaro is different. "You always want to have a horse you can say can win the Triple Crown," said Mr. Matz, with eyes looking toward the May 20 Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes in June. "We think this is a terrific horse with tremendous ability. If I told you I didn't think in the long haul that we'd have a Triple Crown winner I'd be lying to you."

It's a familiar refrain. By the time horse racing scribes drain their last mint julep, they're already casting the Derby winner as a Triple Crown favorite. This year, Barbaro is saddled with the responsibility of living up to Triple Crown hopes. In the 27 racing seasons since Affirmed's 1978 Triple Crown, a number of horses have come close. In fact 10 have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes only to come up empty in the longer-distance Belmont Stakes.

Will Barbaro suffer the same fate when the 1.5-mile Belmont rolls around? Will the colt even get past the May 20 Preakness? "We'll try to keep him at this level for the next two races and hopefully he'll become a famous horse," Mr. Matz said. "All we can do is try our best and hopefully he'll help us out."

Triple Crown winners

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In the more than 125-year history of the three events, just 11 horses have managed to pull off the Triple Crown of American Thoroughbred racing:

1919 Sir Barton: Spent retirement as a working horse at a U.S. Army fort in Nebraska

1930 Gallant Fox: Sired 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha

1935 Omaha: Late bloomer who had lost eight of nine races before Triple Crown season

1937 War Admiral: Considered a slightly smaller version of his sire, Man O'War

1941 Whirlaway: Trotted to victory in the 1942 Pimlico Special when the field no-showed

1943 Count Fleet: Secured Triple Crown by taking Belmont by 25 lengths

1946 Assault: Despite a deformed hoof, became the only Texas-bred Triple Crown winner

1948 Citation: Became the first horse to notch lifetime earnings of $1 million

1973 Secretariat: Shattered Count Fleet's record by winning Belmont by 31 lengths

1977 Seattle Slew: An unknown who was a 10-1 in the morning line before his first race

1978 Affirmed: An undersized colt whose nose-length victory at Belmont remains a classic

Around the Horn

Reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle who uncovered vast portions of the BALCO steroids scandal may have just gotten too close to the story for comfort. A federal grand jury subpoenaed the two reporters demanding they testify about secret court documents they used to tell the story of how Giants slugger Barry Bonds took steroids. Though the documents used by the reporters were supposed to be undisclosed, the reporters' editor at the Chronicle maintains the pair's First Amendment rights will protect them from prosecution.

Meet the new boss-same as the old boss. Somewhere feminist crusader Martha Burke has to be disappointed: Billy Payne, the new chairman of Augusta National golf club (home of the Masters) has as much time for her as the past chairman, Hootie Johnson. "I'm very much aware of her position on all issues as they relate to Augusta National, and I don't really see at this time that any dialogue would be meaningful or helpful," Mr. Payne said.

The second round of playoff basketball graced the Staples Center in Los Angeles this May, but it wasn't the familiar purple and gold on the home team bench, but rather the Clippers that held court. Imagine that-the Clippers, having long been the brunt of many NBA jokes, made it further in the NBA postseason than their cross-town siblings, the Lakers. The reversal of fortunes even caught the eyes of NBA Commissioner David Stern: "The Clippers have had a dry spell, shall we say, yet their fans have supported them in increasing numbers over the year and I am delighted for the fans."

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