America didn’t get itself a Triple Crown winner in 2020. In fact, for the second straight year since Justify captured the 2018 Triple Crown, U.S. thoroughbred racing got the exact opposite of a Triple Crown – three races, three winners.
In this COVID-19-confused version of the Triple Crown, Tiz The Law won the opening event, taking the Belmont Stakes in June. Authentic ended any thought of a Triple Crown by beating Tiz the Law in last month’s Kentucky Derby.
Earlier this month, Swiss Skydiver sent the Triple Crown into free fall by winning the Preakness Stakes. She was the first filly to take a Triple Crown race since Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Preakness.
Last year, Country House (Kentucky Derby), War Of Will (Preakness) and Sir Winston (Belmont) captured the Triple Crown races.
Up north, a Triple Crown dream is still alive. Mighty Heart will head to the Oct. 24 $400,000 Breeders' Stakes at Etobicoke’s Woodbine Racetrack attempting to become the first horse since 2003 to complete a sweep of the Canadian Triple Crown races.
Already with victories in the Queen’s Plate and Prince Of Wales Stakes, Mighty Heart is just one win shy of becoming only the eighth horse to win Canada's Triple Crown. He’d be the first since Wando did it in 2003 for trainer Mike Keogh and late owner Gus Schickedanz.
Mighty Heart launched his Triple Crown dream via a victory in the $1 million Queen’s Plate, also at Woodbine. The Queen’s Plate is Canada’s oldest thoroughbred race. This year’s edition marked the 161st running of the race.
Mighty Heart followed up with a victory in the $400,000 Prince Of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Race Track. His team had him earmarked for the Breeders’ Stakes the moment that they determined that Mighty Heart had come out of the Prince Of Wales Stakes free of ailment or injury.
"He's doing well," trainer Josie Carroll told Canadian Press. "He was tired off the (Prince of Wales) but that's to be expected but he seems to have bounced back well. So far, so good.
"Barring any setbacks, we're going to go in that direction (Breeders' Stakes). That's where we're pointing."
A Mighty Underdog
Everyone loves an underdog story, but they always seem to be extra compelling in the world of horse racing.
Mighty Heart certainly has a compelling story to share with the equine world. As a foal, he lost an eye in a paddock accident with his mother. At first, this impairment appeared like it might be an impediment to his racing career.
“When the dirt hit him in the face, he headed for the outside fence,” Carroll told the Toronto Sun. “We did a lot of breezing in behind other horses to get him used to it and he started to handle it well.
“We also added a blinker that covered his blind socket.”
The tale of jockey Daisuke Fukumoto is also an unique one. He came to Woodbine as a regular rider two years ago from his native Japan.
Owned and bred by Lawrence Cordes, Mighty Heart went off at 13.25-1 in the Queen’s Plate but covered the 1¼-mile distance in 2:01.98, the second-fastest Plate since 1957.
“He only has one eye, but he’s got a big heart, a mighty heart,” Fukumoto said of his classic-winning horse.
A Difficult Challenge
The Canadian Triple Crown offers one of the most unique and difficult challenges in the sport of kings. The trio of races are held at varying distances, each on a different surface.
The Queen’s Plate is contested over a synthetic Tapeta course. The Prince Of Wales Stakes is run at 1 3/16 miles on dirt. The Breeders’ Stakes will be raced on a 1½-mile turf course.
Carroll, a 2019 inductee into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, marvels at both what her horse has overcome and at what he’s accomplished.
"I think it certainly has lifted everybody at the barn up to have a horse that's this much fun," Carroll said. "He has come a long way, particularly from last year when this horse was timid to even walk on the wash bay because it was something new.
"He has grown tremendously in confidence with every race. Maybe that's what I'm seeing about this horse, a tremendous change in his confidence."
The Prince of Wales victory gave Mighty Heart three wins in his last four races. Overall, he has three victories and a third-place finish in six career starts, all coming this year, for $688,003 in earnings.