Leading Off

Horse racing needs to make some changes

American Pharoah, ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, wins the second leg of the Triple Crown as he runs away with the 140th Preakness Stakes, Saturday, May 16, 2015, at a muddy Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.
American Pharoah, ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, wins the second leg of the Triple Crown as he runs away with the 140th Preakness Stakes, Saturday, May 16, 2015, at a muddy Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md. Invision for Longines

For those of us old enough to remember, there was a time when only three sports mattered: baseball, boxing and horse racing.

Baseball still is popular, but football has become America’s pastime, and boxing’s popularity has been in decline for many years as the interest in mixed martial arts soared.

Horse racing has been in a long decline, too, with a surge in interest only when there’s a possibility of a Triple Crown winner like American Pharoah, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and is taking aim at the Belmont on June 6.

If American Pharoah wins, he will be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, and unless the rules are changed we might have to wait another 37 years.

Last year, California Chrome was a huge favorite to win the Triple Crown, but he was beaten in the Belmont by Tonalist, a fresh-legged entry who didn’t run in the Derby or Preakness.

And the last seven times a horse won the Derby and Preakness, the Triple Crown hopeful was beaten in the Belmont by a horse who skipped the Preakness.

That’s not to say American Pharoah won’t win the Belmont – he’s a 2-to-3 early favorite – but he’s expected to go against as many as seven horses who didn’t run in the Preakness, including two who didn’t run in the Derby either. Like Tonalist, those horses will be rested for the grueling 11/2-mile Belmont.

Owners should be required to enter a horse in all three races (and pay the fees) before the Derby. If an owner opts to pass on the Preakness, that horse wouldn’t be allowed to run in the Belmont. It’s as simple as that: No owner can wait for the Belmont while other horses take a beating.

Imagine the interest that would generate – and the amount of betting. You could bet a three-horse parlay and too many exotics to count. And if you had the trifecta in all three races, you’d probably win enough to buy a new car … every year for the rest of your life.

Playbook

WHAT TO WATCH

NBA playoffs, Cleveland at Atlanta, 5:30 p.m., TNT: LeBron James continues his quest to bring a championship to Cleveland.

TWITTER CHATTER

@ESPNStatsinfo: “Since Affirmed won last Triple Crown in 1978, Miguel Cabrera won the only batting triple crown in baseball in 2012.”

ON THIS DATE

May 20, 1919: Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox wins a game on the mound and at the plate as he hits his first career grand slam to beat the St. Louis Browns 6-4.

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