Billy Turner and Jean Cruguet, into the Hall of Fame. Precisely Because It IS So Hard.

Marion Altieri,New York writer

Marion Altieri,New York writer

In case you’ve ever wondered why I don’t experience an event, then turn around and write about it immediately–as do reporters–it’s because I’m a mulling kind of person.  i.e., I could watch a race, then bang out an article on my laptop right-then-and-there, if I wanted to.

But I don’t want to.

I need to think about it for a while, to let the experience seep into my writerly bones.  I’m an “I’ll-get-back-to-you” kinda gal.  If I banged out articles, they’de be “just the facts, Ma’am” stuff:  Who/What/When/Where/ Why/How.   And to me as a reader–the basics are boring.  Yes, I know that they have to be covered–and I teach that, when I teach writing–but I don’t think anyone should be compelled to read my writing if all it’s going to be is factoids with no philosophical or thoughtful words to inspire further investigation or pondering.

So, we’re a full nine days nine days out from American Pharoah’s extraordinary romp into history books on Belmont Stakes Day, 2015.  And I haven’t written a single syllable since that Saturday, June 6th.

Here we go, the first of my Triple Crown-inspired pieces.  I hope that you read it, and agree, actually.  Usually, I don’t care if anyone agrees with me, but this one is important enough to merit the thoughts and vibes of thousands of horse racing fans.

You see, for a couple of decades now, race fans have wondered if we’d ever see another Triple Crown Champion here in the United States.  (I wrote, “a couple of decades,” because I remember 1995, 17 years after Affirmed’s Triple Crown victory–and no one was whining yet about the lack of superior Thoroughbred power, capable of taking that crown.)

And I wrote, “here in the United States,” because I don’t know if all race fans realize that our American Triple Crown isn’t the only Triple Crown on Planet Earth.   (Just as the “World Series” includes only American teams, not world teams.  And the “Super Bowl” is about American football, not the far-more-popular soccer, which is called “football” everywhere else on Earth.  American sports fans tend to think that it all begins and ends here.)     The fact is that 29 countries have Triple Crowns, and among them, only 14 undefeated Triple Crown Champions.

SEATTLE SLEW BELMONT CRUGUETThat brings us to Seattle Slew.  Seattle Slew, as you know, is the only undefeated Triple Crown victor in the history of United States’ horse racing.  And ergo the only American horse of 14–of 29 nations that host Triple Crowns.

That’s a damned exclusive club.

If we in the U.S.  think that American Pharoah achieved something, being one of only 12 Triple Crown Champions since the series of races first were organized–try to wrap your head around Seattle Slew’s worldwide statistics.   I don’t recall reading or hearing anything, anywhere, about these stats.  And these stats do count.

So on the one hand, we have the incredible rareness of American Pharoah’s achievements–then the even-more-rare accomplishments of Seattle Slew.

And on the other hand, we have the comment that sprouted wings, when first uttered in a moment of stupidity after the 2014 Belmont Stakes.  When Steve Coburn (co-owner of Triple Crown contender, California Chrome) blurted out his frustrated rant, he unwittingly started a dialogue that continued–right up until June 6th, 2015.

Among other unthinking statements, Mr. Coburn threw it Out There, that winning the Triple Crown was “…too hard.”


“Too hard” became a mantra for many people–and even some racing organizations–for just-short of a year.  The concept that the Triple Crown was “too hard” for any horse went viral, as people worried about the physical and mental health of the horses riding that train to Glory.

The entire structure of the three races–the period of times between each race, and whether or not fresh horses should be allowed in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes–became the hot property of many racing media, which no doubt benefited from all the hoopla.  Many non-racing media–giving a bow to major horse racing events–went berserk, and suddenly became experts.  Too many outside media hired anyone who could use a QWERTY keyboard to write “insightful” pieces.  (Most of these “insights” were embarrassing to read, as they showed the writers’ utter lack of understanding of the sport, and that of their editors.  Like hiring me to write about the Super Bowl.)

That argument raged, then waned as we went into winter, then reared its silly head again in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

IF American Pharoah–or another horse–won the Kentucky Derby–would he be “too tired” to beat a field of fresh horses in the Belmont Stakes, just five weeks later?

Obviously, the answer was, NO.

American Pharoah proved on June 6th that it can be done–so we can dispense with the silly chatter about changing the details of the Triple Crown races in the U.S.  At least for another 37 years.  Someone could do it–so obviously, it can be done.

Done, by a superior horse.
Done, by an insightful and gifted jockey.
Done, by a trainer who planned his horse’s training–long before the Kentucky Derby–putting the horse’s needs first.

That’s what it takes to win the Triple Crown:  like a meteor shower, an incredible convergence of factors, coming together at just the right moment, at just the right time.  One iota to the left or right–one change in feed, jockey or trainer–and the whole recipe could have been ruined.

BILLY TURNER Rick Samuels Blood HorseAnd this is precisely why Seattle Slew’s trainer, Billy Turner and Slew’s jockey, Jean Cruguet, should be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, in 2016.  Because it IS so hard.JEAN CRUGUET Photo by Rick Capone

Even if the whole darned process wasn’t “so hard,” they should be in the Hall of Fame:  If either gentleman never had trained or ridden another horse in their entire careersthey won the damned Triple Crown.

And here in the U.S., only 12 horses have done that.

As much as I love horses–and I respect their intelligence and spirits–you know as well as I that the horses don’t run by themselves.  They need trainers to build them up and teach them how to run.  And they need jockeys who have grit, stamina and the intuition to know their horses.

i.e., As talented as is American Pharoah, he didn’t do it alone.

Neither did Seattle Slew.

Now, when you add to this the incredibly rare world statistics on Slew–that there are 29 nations that host Triple Crowns, and of those 29–only 14 undefeated–only one American, Seattle Slew, in that number–you have a whole ‘nother slant on the story.

A Triple Crown winner in the United States is rare.
A Triple Crown winner in the U.S., who’s also undeafeatedwell, only one horse has done that.
Of the 29 nations of the world that host Triple Crowns–only 14 of those horses are undefeated.

Ergo, Seattle Slew is the only American horse to sit in that stratosphere.

IMHO (“In My Humble Opinion,” as “the young people” say these days)–any horse who wins the Triple Crown should be inducted automatically into the Racing Hall of Fame.  And their trainer and jockey.

Yes, American Pharoah has to wait five years for his induction, as are the current rules.

But in reality, he’s already there, except for the ceremony and formalities.

Seattle Slew has been in the Hall of Fame since 1981, just four years after he took the Crown.

Why are not his trainer and jockey in the Hall of Fame?  (I ask this as a race fan of 55 years, and as a racing media professional.  I serve on the Hall of Fame Voting Panel, and am blessed to be in the stellar company of many gifted colleagues.  I look forward to continued years of serving my horse racing community, and working with the special people at the Hall of Fame.)

There’s too much emphasis in American racing these days, on the amount of money that a jockey, horse or trainer has won, and not necessarily the quality of the races that added up to that amount of cash.

Bloated purses = more income to report to, but how valuable was the race that led to the awarding of that money?  (Yes, there are some spectacular races, like the Dubai World Cup races, that offer both high purses and superior challenge and prestige to the runners.  Those races aren’t for newbies, or those who can’t take a serious throw-down.)  But we see it all the time, now:  how much a jockey has won–or a trainer, or a horse–becomes the yardstick by which that being’s merit is measured, and the subject of many media stories.

And that’s just plain silly.

(And, God knows, that untouchable factor–Heart–is never considered in the case of the human connections.
Horses are said to have Heart–and that’s good, the horses are the Heart and Soul of the sport.  But their humans also should have Heart.  Some do.  Many don’t.  Some have more than others.  Heart should be a factor for Hall of Fame consideration.  You can’t see it.  You can’t touch it.  But, like the judge who could not define pornography–who knew it when he saw it–we know Heart when we see it.)

Seattle Slew’s take of the Kentucky Derby purse was a mere $287,000.
But he won the Kentucky Derby.  And he went on to win the Triple Crown.

Should his jockey and trainer be kept out of the Hall of Fame simply because they won the Triple Crown 38 years ago, before inflation went insane?  Of course not. 

Turner Cruguet June 5 2015 Courtesy of SeattlePiNow, both gentlemen, Jean Cruguet and Billy Turner, were treated like rock stars this past Belmont Stakes Week. Rightfully so.  The media went to them for (what seemed like) hundreds of TV and radio interviews; for photos and for their opinions. (This website also offers video interviews of both men, as you’ll see.)

This one week, every year, they are given the respect that they so richly deserve.

But being treated like a rock star, once a year, is not equal to being given the props that you deserve.  Fancy dinners and reporters falling all over you once a year are not the same as being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Of joining your peers there, living members of horse racing history.

I posit herein that, between the two of them, Cruguet and Turner know more about horse racing than 99% of those currently on the oval.  I know both gentlemen, and have watched them in action with horses.  Their deep intuition, their love for horses, their knowledge of the sport–all eclipse the combined talents of many of today’s racing professionals.

Certainly earnings are not the sole criteria that are considered–or should be–when the Hall of Fame process is set into motion every year.  Other factors are considered.  But the one factor that should be considered–a line that should be on the forms–should read, simply,

Won the freakin’ Triple Crown.

with a box, for nominations people to check with an X.

Anyone for whom that box is checked automatically should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

You want a logical argument, why Jean Cruguet and Billy Turner should be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016?

1)  Because they won the Triple Crown, and only 11 others have achieved that.  Ever.
2)  They’re the only undefeated team so to do.

3)  Precisely because, as so many people squawked this past year, it IS so damned hard.

End of discussion.



World Triple Crowns:

Photo Credits:
Seattle Slew, Jean Cruguet up, wins the Belmont Stakes and therefore, the Triple Crown.
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

Billy Turner and Jean Cruguet sign autographs at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day.
June 6, 2015.
Photo courtesy of

Billy Turner
Photo courtesy of Rick Samuels/Blood-Horse.

Jean Cruguet
Photo courtesy of Rick Capone.