Time for another kind of Crown

With all the fanfare surrounding the Triple Crown, shouldn't the sport have a similar series for the fillies?

Updated: May 28, 2001, 1:09 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

When horse racing is packaged as a big event it is an easy sell. The crowds for the Triple Crown races have never been better, the Breeders' Cup is as strong as ever and signature races like the Travers, Haskell, Florida Derby and the Arkansas Derby continue to attract huge amounts of fans. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that racing could use a lot more big days, yet the sport continues to miss the boat on a terrific opportunity to build fan attention and put more people in the seats.

Why isn't there a Filly Triple Crown?

If there's a satisfactory answer to that question I've yet to hear it.

The three races are already there, staring everyone in the face, yet no one has ever moved to package the Kentucky Oaks, the Black-Eyed Susan and the Acorn, races for 3-year-old fillies which are run at the Triple Crown tracks the day before the Triple Crown races. Put them together, give the series a name, add a bonus, find a sponsor, increase the purses, put them on TV. We'll need to tinker with some of the distances and, who knows, maybe even the dates of the races, but that's not a big deal. Voila, there's your Filly Triple Crown. Now, how easy was that?

The folks at the New York Racing Association might argue that there already is a Filly Triple Crown. They like to call the Acorn, Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks the "Triple Tiara," and it once was called the Filly Triple Crown. It's just that the Triple Tiara is not the answer. All three are good races but they're neither important enough or rich enough to consistently lure the best fillies in training or build any media excitement. There's no bonus attached to three, no sponsorship, no fanfare. The occasional sweep of the series is noted and soon forgotten.

The Kentucky Oaks is a perfect way to lead off any series. Oaks Day has become a major event at Churchill Downs, attracting 102,904 fans this year. Kentucky Oaks Day is neck and neck with the Preakness for the second most well-attended day of racing in the country. The Kentucky Oaks will stay as it is, on the day before the Derby, run at a mile and an eighth.

The Black-Eyed Susan is a snooze year after year. It had only five horses this year and didn't get a single one out of the Kentucky Oaks. But putting the race into a Triple Crown format and increasing the purse would change everything. To make it a better fit, let's shift it to a mile and three sixteenths. How about running it on the Saturday after the Preakness? No one seems to want to come to Pimlico on a Friday afternoon.

The final leg will, of course be the Acorn. The distance will be moved to a mile and a quarter and NYRA brass may also want to consider running it the Saturday after the Belmont Stakes.

Each race will have a purse of $500,000 and there will be a $2.5 million bonus given to any horse that sweeps the series. Perhaps Visa would step in any sponsor the Filly Triple Crown, as well. If not, it shouldn't be too hard to find someone who would.

TV? Maybe the networks will bite, maybe they won't. There's little doubt that ESPN would love to televise a Filly Triple Crown. This year, the network will show all three races anyway, as bonus coverage to the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

It's a win-win situation for everyone. Though the Kentucky Oaks can stand alone, the Black-Eyed Susan and the Acorn are seen by the public as just another race on another day at the track. Even NYRA, which has put a lot of effort into jazzing up Acorn Day, hasn't seen anything meaningful in the way of gains at the turnstiles. And they shouldn't expect much of anything, not as long as the Acorn stands by itself and is not part of anything important.

Pimlico and Belmont wouldn't be the only tracks to benefit. Anyone running a Kentucky Derby prep races could package their best 3-year-old filly race along with their marquee race for 3-year-old males. Why not run the Santa Anita Derby the same day as the Santa Anita Oaks, the Ashland the same day as the Blue Grass? There'd be twice the excitement.

And don't the owners of top 3-year-old fillies deserve purses that are at least in the same ballpark as the ones the colts run for? The Triple Crown races are worth a combined $3 million. The Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan and Acorn add up to a measly $900,000.

Women's sports are hot. We have the Williams sisters and Anna Kournikova. Everyone knows Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, but could anyone name a U.S. born male soccer play? The WNBA has been a major success. Why not jump on the bandwagon and maybe appeal to women, not exactly your most ardent race goers.

There are a lot of good things going on in racing today. The sport should take its strengths and build on them. Two Triple Crowns are better than one.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com