Every time I think about whether Spend A Buck ought to go to the Preakness and try for the Triple Crown, or go to the Jersey Derby and try for the golden egg, I see myself on the set of "Let's Make a Deal," dressed up as a pan pizza, listening to Monty Hall as he offers me my choice:
"Now, Tony, you've already won the speedboat, the water bed, the five-piece living room set, a year's supply of whole milk, $750,000 worth of gold and all the land west of Pittsburgh. You can keep that. Or you can trade it for what's behind curtain No. 3."
I'd like to think it'd be a piece of cake.
I mean, what's the worst that could happen? They'll open up the curtain and there'll be a live goat standing there. Big deal. You know what the kid says in "Risky Business." Sometimes you've just got to say, "What the . . ."
"Monty, baby, open the drapes."
Live the fantasy, right?
Obviously, it's easy for me to sit back and tell the owners of Spend A Buck where to race next.
It's not my horse.
And it's not my money.
But if it was, I'd like to think I'd go for the glory.
I'd run him in the Preakness.
You have to understand that I know next to nothing about horse racing. Like many of you, I suspect, I plug in for the Kentucky Derby, memorize the winner's name and then follow his progress for as long as he stays alive for the Triple Crown.
I don't know about bloodlines, and I don't know about purses. But I do know about the Triple Crown. I know that if you win the Kentucky Derby you also have to win the Preakness and the Belmont, and I know that only 11 horses in history have won it; three in my lifetime -- Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Every great horse didn't win the Triple Crown, but every one that did win was a great one.
I have no idea who ever won the Jersey Derby.
Maybe Secretariat did. Maybe Bruce Springsteen did.
I know there's a load of money involved. Spend A Buck will get $600,000 for winning the Jersey Derby and a bonus prize of $2 million for having already won two stakes at Garden State -- the Cherry Hill Mile and the Garden State Stakes -- and the Kentucky Derby. In less than two minutes Spend A Buck can earn $2.6 million for his owners. Think about it. They are.
Dennis Diaz said right after winning the Kentucky Derby, "Sometimes I think this business of making studs has gotten out of hand. We're in the business of winning purses, too . . . We will have a $2.6 million payday by winning the Jersey Derby -- that's the biggest payday in the history of racing; by God, don't let anybody think we don't want that."
Spend A Buck would get about $350,000 for winning the Preakness.
And a shot at the Triple Crown, which is a shot at immortality.
Spend A Buck may be the only horse eligible for Garden State's nouveau riche bonanza $2 million bonus, but he also is the only horse eligible for the Triple Crown.
Who knows? Someday down the road -- maybe someday soon -- the traditional Triple Crown lineup will be changed, and the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes will be replaced by the Jersey Derby and the Breeders' Cup. Maybe there won't even be a Triple Crown. Maybe every guy with a cellular car phone, a vicun a suit and four blocks of downtown real estate will put up a $7 million purse and get into the Derby business. Instant tradition. Have money, seek class.
But for now the stature and concept of the Triple is preeminent.
And this Triple is the only one out there.
Clearly, there's no guarantee that Spend A Buck would win the Triple Crown. He'd seem to have a better chance in the Preakness, which favors speed, than in the longer, 1 1/2-mile Belmont. You could probably make the case that if Spend A Buck were to lose either the Preakness or Belmont, his stud value would be substantially decreased. If Dennis Diaz was able to buy him for $12,500, how good could his bloodlines be in the first place? The smart money would probably say to run him in the Jersey Derby against a weak field -- on a track he loves -- and forget about chasing a historically improbable Triple. Take the money and run.
But because it's so public, this isn't an ordinary business decision. There is something to be said here for romance, a word heard far too infrequently in sports. Spend A Buck has already earned more than $1.4 million. Having won the Kentucky Derby, he's probably worth around $10 million even if he doesn't ever win again. On top of all those potatoes, the Jersey Derby is a $2 million boat of gravy. But if you're looking for pie in the sky, just listen to Chick Lang, the Pimlico general manager who desperately wants Spend A Buck to run in his Preakness. When Lang beats a drum, he pounds it. He's saying that if Spend A Buck wins the Triple, he'll be worth "40 to 50 million dollars."
I think you can do it for love, or you can do it for money.
The money's there. How much is enough?
If Dennis and Linda Diaz decide to run Spend A Buck in the Preakness, every horse racing fan -- even we casual ones -- would stand up and cheer. It would be seen as a victory for tradition and for romance.
Personally, I don't care too much for money. Money can't buy me love.
Take the curtain.