This much can be said for Caveat: his victory in the Belmont Stakes was the most convincing and authoritative performance in the 1983 Triple Crown series.
Sunny's Halo won the Kentucky Derby and Deputed Testamony took the Preakness under such favorable circumstances that a rerun of either of those races would likely have produced a different winner. Caveat had almost everything go his own way, too, except for the bumping incident on the turn--he got a perfect ground-saving ride from Laffit Pincay Jr.--but if they ran the Belmont again next week he'd win it again. He is clearly the best 1 1/2-mile runner of his age group.
But the very fact that the Belmont Stakes field could be dominated by a colt who had lost 15 times and had never won a major stake before Saturday says a lot about this group of 3-year-olds. The 1983 Triple Crown series produced no great horses, no great performances, no close finishes, no memorable moment except for Caveat's bulling his way through a narrow hole on the rail Saturday. It was the worst Triple Crown since 1970, that eminently forgettable year when Dust Commander, Personality and High Echelon won the three races. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect every year to produce a Secretariat or a Spectacular Bid or an Affirmed versus Alydar rivalry. But the dreariness of this spring's 3-year-old competition underscores the drawback of the way thoroughbred racing presents itself to the public.
The Derby, Preakness and Belmont are the only thoroughbred races that the media give full-fledged attention, and therefore they are the only races that the general public cares much about. If a star emerges or great drama unfolds in any of these races, the whole country takes an interest. But if these things happen in any of dozens of other potentially important events they are ignored.
It is absurd that the average sports fan should have been saturated with coverage of Sunny's Halo's case of ringworm but may never have heard of the best racehorse on this continent, Bates Motel. It is absurd that the media should hype the Belmont rematch of Caveat and Slew o' Gold (who had finished third and fourth in the Kentucky Derby) and yet ignore the genuinely dramatic confrontation of the unbeaten fillies Princess Rooney and Ski Goggle in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont. There are some drawbacks to putting all your eggs into three baskets.
And that is why the Breeders' Cup races that will be run for the first time in November 1984 are such an important innovation. This one-day extravaganza of championship races, topped by a race for 3-year-olds and up that offers a $4 million purse, has plenty of critics within the industry, but the staggering amount of money involved will command attention that the current lineup of year-end championship races does not. And races that attract the best horses of all ages from this country and abroad are sure to be genuine championship events, which the Triple Crown races sometimes are not. But until the Breeders' Cup is initiated, American racing will continue to be preoccupied by its 3-year-olds, and so we will still be hearing more from Caveat, Slew o' Gold, Sunny's Halo and the rest of these mediocrities as they vie for the championship of their generation.
That will probably be decided in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, a race for which they all are pointing. Discriminating racing fans can be forgiven if they are not breathless with anticipation.