Clean Winning at the Triple Crown

Justify wins Belmont
Justify winning the Belmont, photo from Foxnews

In the 143 years that the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes have been run, only 13 horses have won all three (9%). Fifty-two horses have won only two of the races; 23 failed the third race. The Belmont is the longest, so a horse that likes the front–like Justify–would have to hold the lead forever after already becoming The Target. Thus, I found myself teary-eyed watching Justify complete the Triple Crown even though we had only just been introduced.

Winning is hard enough when everyone tries equally, but even harder when everyone tries specifically to beat you.

The Lengths That They Must Go

I still remember that other chestnut thoroughbred from 1973. Everyone should watch that Belmont race (thanks, Youtube!). Secretariat was a once-in-a-lifetime horse, although I didn’t know it then. What sticks out is his surge along the back stretch, “Big Red” on his way to winning by 31 lengths. TV cameras couldn’t zoom out as they do now, so as the horse pulls away, the camera has to pan farther and farther right to see the rest of the field.

Secretariat wins the 1973 Belmont
Secretariat winning the Belmont, captured by photographer Bob Coglianese

Triple Crown winners come in spurts. Seven horses won from 1930-45, though a quarter century passed before Secretariat broke the drought. Two more winners followed him in the 1970s, Affirmed and Seattle Slew. Just as viewers started to yawn, another 37-year gap occurred until American Pharoah won in 2015.

Affirmed beating Alydar at Belmong
Alydar losing to Affirmed for the 3rd race of the Triple Crown, AP photo from

Losing by a Nose, Three Times

Affirmed’s feat in 1978 was different from Secretariat’s. All three of Affirmed’s races were close; he beat the same horse, Alydar, three times. At the Belmont,  Alydar almost passed him, and the write-up here described it as one of the closest in history.  Hard to be Affirmed, three times the target–how much harder to be Alydar, just nosed out all three times?  A worthy competitor makes the champion’s achievement almost as remarkable as 31 lengths.


Justify’s lineage includes Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and War Admiral–all Triple Crown winners. Like that other red horse, Justify favors the lead, the worst position for winning any kind of race, since the front-runner can not see the chasers. Justify’s jockey Mike Smith, the oldest to win a Triple Crown, had as much work to keep Justify in front as those who tried to catch him from behind.

Justify wins Kentucky Derby
Justify winning 2018 Kentucky Derby in rain and mud, photo by Wooley

The 2018 Belmont was also a well-contested race, not a runaway by Justify. Gronkowski moved up from a terrible start to almost pull even; there were  huzzahs in our house for the white-cap in second.

Justify after winning Belmont
Justify, winner at the 2018 Belmont over come-from-last-place Bronkowski, still shot from NBCSports

All three races in 2018 were drizzly, with the Derby the wettest in years. Yet Justify’s prowess is seen in the pictures.

He’s the only horse and rider not spattered with mud, a clear, clean winner.



Mare Nostrum IV: Gibraltar–Everyone Wants a Piece of the Rock

…The concept of two pillars, one in the North and another in the South, in those times, would be recognised by all sailors as a religious prohibition, a warning that only the approved might pass between them. The Pillar on the right, sailing out of the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic, Westwards, would be Gibraltar, a grey limestone monolith two miles long and 1380 feet high …The Pillar on the left, on the North African coast would be a lower mountain about 400 feet high, known as Septa… [covered in bushes which] flower yellow in January through to April, presenting the impression of the fiery pillar.
–William Serfaty, The Pillars of the Phoenicians

Macaque at Gibraltar
Straits of Gibraltar, photo by Kallmaker.

Mons Calpe. Pillar of Hercules (Ἡράκλειαι Στῆλαι). Jabar Tariq. What the Neanderthals called it is unknown. The Barbary Macaques–The Rock Apes–don’t tell us their name for it either. Nowadays, most humans call it Gibraltar.

Because of an advertising campaign, Gibraltar has long been associated with safety and security. Getting a “piece of the rock” is connected to insurance which yearns for a boring, uneventful existence. However, assumptions which link Gibraltar and peace are flawed at heart. The Rock has reflected 2.6 square miles of arguments and disputed ownership for much of its human history, especially during the last five centuries. Continue reading “Mare Nostrum IV: Gibraltar–Everyone Wants a Piece of the Rock”

Mare Nostrum II: Roma–In the Shadow of Centuries

Capitoline wolf statue
Capitoline Wolf, Museo Capitolini in Rome. Photo by kajmeister.

There are very few places left which can live up to their own hype. Rome does. Use whatever words you like–ostentatious, city of grandeur, over the top–Rome wears them like a toga. You want 2000-year-old ruins? Here’s a Temple of the Vestal Virgins. Over there’s a Colosseum, where one three-day festival weekend, they slaughtered 9000 people in it. You like statues? Here’s a six-foot head of Constantine that used to tower in a piazza or… how about a Michelangelo so close to you that you can breathe on it. Want coffee? Best cappucino in the world at this hole in the wall, mind the scooters aiming at you as you cross the alley. Museums? More than in Washington D.C. Pastries? Sfogliatelle. Religious backdrops? Oh, here’s a church (imagine me waving vaguely at St. Peter’s, the way Edith Head used to wave at all her Oscars).

We’ve seen painted ceilings, beautiful sculptures, and well-turned out meals in many places. Rome just seems to have more. Of everything. Continue reading “Mare Nostrum II: Roma–In the Shadow of Centuries”

Mare Nostrum I: Venice-La Serenissima

Oh Venice! Venice! when thy marble walls
Are level with the waters, there shall be
A cry of nations o’er thy sunken halls,
A loud lament along the sweeping sea!
If I, a northern wanderer, weep for thee,

What should thy sons do?–anything but weep
And yet they only murmur in their sleep.

Ode to Venice, Lord Byron

It’s easy to be in awe of Venice; it’s harder to like it.

I am not referring either to Venice, California, in the state where I live, or Venice, Florida where my dad used to live and where I spent the summer of ’78 driving up and down the Tamiami Trail. I’m talking about THE Venice, which is the first stop on our three week sojourn around the Mediterranean. The first thing you observe is the sound of water lapping, nonstop, against the docks, the sound of engines revving up and cutting down as the barges and taxis slip around through the canals. History sings as you ride the boats between the Palazzo Thises and the Ca d’Thats, but, even in sunlight, the buildings which shine in the distance seem faded and dingy close up.

Venice St. Mark's Square
St. Mark’s Square, Venice, photo by kajmeister

Beautiful Decay

One well-traveled friend warned me that she found Venice dirty and odorous, like New Orleans without signs in English. Another said she loved to walk around and just “gawk.” For me, the city inspired thoughts of both. Arriving to the train station via water taxi, the food seems airport-priced, the toilets require coins, and people are jammed into the few available seats and benches. (Don’t sit on the bridges!) Lines for the vaporetto (water bus) tickets are long, signs are confusing, and photo stops at the Rialto bridge and elsewhere are wall-to-wall shoulders and strollers. A vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal listening to a pre-downloaded Rick Steves’ tour seemed like a great “get acclimated” idea, except that the popular #1 line was also crammed full of bodies–where do these tourists all come from? Same place as myself, I suppose.

Continue reading “Mare Nostrum I: Venice-La Serenissima”

San Francisco, American Phoenix

1906 SF earthquake
April 18, 1906 San Francisco, photo from wikipedia

Today marks the 112th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Watching the news of the commemoration this morning, I am struck by how the city has throughout its history managed to stand for both old and new. The more I poked around the ashes of the story of this most famous disaster, the more I realized how much it stands for rebuilding and the spirit of renewal.

Perhaps the 50th Largest Earthquake

The 1906 earthquake struck at 5:12 am and lasted for 42 seconds, less than a full minute.  The estimated Richter magnitude is 7.9, which makes it the tenth largest quake recorded in the United States. However, the frequency and size of earthquakes around the Pacific Ocean–from Sumatra to Alaska–means that the SF quake doesn’t even make the list of top forty largest earthquakes in world history.

Earthquakes were not particularly frequent or known occurrences in the fledgling California at the time. The Richter scale wasn’t to be invented for another thirty years and scientists, looking back, don’t think there was a tremendous amount of seismic activity beforehand. But, of course, that is how pressure builds up and the quake is the mechanism that allows the faults relieve themselves when they are crushed too closely together. Pressure must escape and, like a genie released from a bottle, the impact of releasing a giant force from a tiny space is hugely felt. Continue reading “San Francisco, American Phoenix”