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Myriad factors lead to Triple Crown drought

Saturday - 6/1/2013, 8:52pm  ET

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, JUNE 1-2 - FILE - In this June 9, 1973 file photo, jockey Ron Turcotte hangs on as Secretariat romps along the final stretch just before the finish line and a victory in the 105th running of the Belmont Stakes, winning the Triple Crown at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/File)

AP Racing Writer

Thirty-five years. Thirty-six by the time the Belmont Stakes rolls around next June and there's a chance -- maybe -- of horse racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed.

It's the longest dry spell in history.

Everyone who loves the sport has a theory on why a 3-year-old thoroughbred hasn't been able to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

Changes in breeding. A tougher road to the Derby. Bigger fields in the three races.

And then there's luck.

"It takes a special horse," said Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed in 1978. "And you need things to not go wrong for you."

It's not impossible, or at least it wasn't.

Since Sir Barton won what later became known as the Triple Crown in 1919, 10 other thoroughbreds have completed the feat, including three each in the '30s, '40s and '70s. Most recently, Secretariat set track records on the way to his sweep in 1973, followed by Seattle Slew in '77 and Affirmed the next year.

Back then, the question was whether the series had become too easy. Not anymore.

Sure, there have been 11 Triple possibilities since Affirmed, and there could have been 12 except that I'll Have Another was scratched the day before the Belmont last year with a tendon injury.

Hopes were dashed again this year, as Kentucky Derby winner Orb lost in the Preakness to Oxbow, leaving Saturday's Belmont Stakes almost an afterthought despite its $1 million purse.

"It would be great for racing if a horse wins it and at the same time the fact no one has been able to do it for so long makes it that more exciting, that much more intriguing," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the 2010 Derby with Super Saver.

The Triple Crown is run on a compressed schedule, just five weeks from start to finish. Each race varies in distance, from 1
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