Flat racing's extreme goal starts at Kentucky

We wrote last week about the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and headlined that blog as extreme art. We also mentioned that our favourite in the equestrian world was flat racing and of course this weekend saw the running of the 2009 Kentucky Derby – one leg of the American Triple Crown.

The world of extreme horse racing is somewhat complicated and will take us some time to provide a thorough explanation. You have different age groups, you have the boys – colts – and girls – fillies – you have the different class of races, the different weights to be carried, the different distances to be raced and the different surfaces to be run on – dirt or turf.

And beyond all that you have the characters involved, not just the horses but their owners, their trainers their jockeys and their adoring fans. A day at the races is in our humble opinion great entertainment.

At the extreme end of the sport, the very best of the best, as an owner or trainer you are hoping your colt will win the Triple Crown.

In the United States this consists of the Kentucky Derby run over 1.25 miles on dirt at Churchill Downs, Kentucky; the Preakness Stakes run over 1.187 miles on dirt at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes run over 1.5 miles on dirt at Belmont Park in New York.

In the United Kingdom the Triple Crown for Colts consists of the 2,000 Guineas run over 1 mile on turf at Newmarket, Suffolk; the Derby run over 1.5 miles on turf at Epsom Downs, Surrey; and the St. Leger run over 1.75 miles on turf at Doncaster Town Moor Race Course, Yorkshire.

Both in the United States and United Kingdom these races are for 3 year olds and if achieved your horse joins a very select group of past winners.

In the US it has only happened 11 times the last time being 1978 when Affirmed, ridden by Steve Cauthen, won all three races and it has not happened in the UK since 1970 when Nijinsky, ridden by Lestor Piggott achieved the accolade. There have been 15 winners of the Triple Crown in the UK.

It could be argued today that winning the Triple Crown in the UK will never be achieved again as it is believed the ‘stud’ value of a colt who has won at distances of between 1 mile and 1.75 miles will be reduced – somewhat ironical but owners are concentrating on reproducing speed and not stamina.

So there you have an introduction to the world of extreme flat racing and on Saturday we saw the second biggest upset in the history of the Kentucky Derby when Mine That Bird, ridden by Calvin Borel, stormed home up the rails at a rain sodden Churchill Downs to win by a convincing margin. At odds of 50-1 it was indeed a surprise and it will be interesting to see how he runs in the next leg – the Preakness.

See the action below from kentuckyderby of how he managed to do it.

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