For someone like me who grew up less than 20 miles from historic Saratoga Race Track, the sport of kings has meant much more than it has to the average fan.

Saratoga is to racing what Yankee Stadium is to major league baseball, Lambeau Field is to the National Football League or Wimbledon is to tennis.

Although I never cared about the betting aspect of horse racing at Saratoga—mainly because I was already a freshman at McNeese on my 18th birthday when it would have been legal for me to bet—the historical beauty of that race track and its surroundings are breath-taking.

Whenever I used vacation time to visit my parents, it was no coincidence it happened sometime during the month of August when the thoroughbreds were racing at this historical landmark that was built during the Civil War and opened Aug. 3, 1863. It is the oldest sporting venue of any kind in the United States.

I kept up with the “biggies” of the sport like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, plus the featured races during August at Saratoga like the Travers Stakes and the Jim Dandy.

As the years slipped by, it was very noticeable that the sport was losing its popularity and appeal to the average sports buff. It appeared that a few trainers, jockeys and even owners were willing to bend some rules to get an edge on the competition. And those who got caught gave the sport a huge black eye.

The sport really needed a Triple Crown Winner to restore some of its prominence because it hasn’t had one since Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1978. Since 1978, 11 horses won the Derby and Preakness but fell short of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The most recent were Big Brown in 2008, which finished a disappointing ninth with 38-1 long shot Da’Tara winning the Belmont and 2004 when Smarty Jones finished second to Birdstone, a 36-1 long shot.

The real irony is that the Belmont Stakes was the only Triple Crown race in which I’ll Have Another was favored. He drew post position 11 for Saturday’s race which historically has not been a good spot.

Since 1905, according an issue of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union  last week, 23 horses have started from that 11 post position and only two (Conquistador Cielo in 1982 and Sarava in 2002) have won. However, I’ll Have Another became the only horse in Kentucky Derby history to win from post position 19.

I’ll Have Another was only the third horse in history to scratch from the Belmont Stakes after winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He was forced to scratch Friday with tendonitis in the left foreleg. Bold Venture in 1936 and Burgoo King in 1932 both scratched from the Belmont with a bowed tendon.

So at a young three years old, I’ll Have Another has been retired from competitive racing with five wins in seven starts and career earnings of $2,693,600.

Despite the fact there would not be history made with a possible Triple Crown winner, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes was a race with an exciting finish.

Union Rags, sent off as the 5-2 second choice and hadn’t raced since finishing a disappointing seventh in the Kentucky Derby, made a charge from the inside rail to barely nip Paynter at the finish line.

Actually, Union Rags was the horse most capable of winning the Triple Crown. The colt won three of four starts as a two-year-old but had a third-place finish in the Florida Derby where he was favored and then had that mediocre seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He was replaced by I’ll Have Another as the darling of the 3-year olds.

Dullahan, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, was the betting favorite in the Belmont Stakes at 5-2. But he was a non-factor Saturday finishing a distant seventh.

Paynter, the Belmont runner-up ridden by Mike Smith and trained by Bob Baffert, led the entire race and looked like he would win the grueling 1 ½-mile race after holding off 20-1 long shot Atigun. He didn’t have enough earnings to run in the Derby or Preakness and was making his first graded stakes start.

For Smith, Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat it was another second-place finish. The trio finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Bodemeister, after he led both races most of the way only to be nipped at the wire by I’ll Have Another. “I need a Triple Crown for second-place finishes,” Baffert quipped.

That very well could be the only way the coveted Triple Crown could be won in the future.

KWICKIES…It appears to this Korner that the cream rose to the top as the Miami Heat overpowered the proud Boston Celtics 101-88 in Game 7 to reach the NBA finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to wear down the older San Antonio Spurs to reach the finals, which began Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.  The Heat and the Thunder split two games during the regular season, both winning at home. As much as I like the Thunder, it looks to this Korner that LeBron James will finally get his wish with the third time being the charm to earn his  first NBA championship. James became the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in the 2000 finals to have six 30-point games in a playoff series.  The only contest in which he didn’t score 30 (Game 4) LeBron finished with 29.

The entry deadline for the first annual Mighty Mustangs Golf Tournament on June 25 is Monday and the field is not yet filled according to an update by Skip Moore, comptroller of the sponsoring West Orange-Stark Athletic Organizations. The entry fee is $125 for individuals and $500 per four-player team. The format is a four-player scramble with an 8 a.m. shotgun start on Monday, April 25. For more information contact Ray Hancock at (409)-988-6833.

Although the Houston Astros have won only four of their last10 games, they lead the major leagues with a .314 batting average in those 10 games. Included in those four wins are the two-of-three games they won against the White Sox last weekend IN Chicago, which was their first series win in nine tries this season. At Chicago the Astros pounded eight home runs—including four in Sunday’s 11-9 victory– after hitting just 13 in their previous 25 road games. The last time Houston blasted four home runs in one game was May 29, 2011. And they’ve been doing all this hitting with four position players disabled in the last nine days and two who were sick to various degrees.

Although he’s not ranked No. 1 in the world any more, it still looks as if Tiger Woods should be favored in this week’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Tiger might be as close to his old dominant self as he ever will be again. His 14th and last major win occurred in the 2008 U.S. Open when he hobbled around Torrey Pines for 91 holes—including a 19-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate—on a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and with stress fractures in the same leg for one of the more astounding accomplishments in his storied career. Luke Donald, the current world’s No. 1 golfer, has yet to win a major tournament in his 10-year professional career. Donald, and the 23 others—besides Woods—who are ranked in the top 25 have won a combined 12 majors. Should one of them win this weekend, the group will still trail Tiger Woods.

JUST BETWEEN US…Last week’s edition of USA Today Sports Weekly previewed the 2012 Seattle Seahawks and mentioned that the team will sport nifty, new Nike-designed uniforms. Third-year head coach Pete Carroll is pleased with the Seahawks’ remade roster with productive drafts, selective acquisitions of prominent veterans and a flurry of low-level moves. Seattle finished 7-9 in both seasons under Carroll. “The Seahawks are huge and physical on both sides of the ball and features a starting secondary who are 6-3 or taller,” the article states. “The lone pipsqueak, 5-10 Pro Bowler Earl Thomas, might be Ed Reed’s successor as the game’s best free safety. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor is the best safety tandem you’ve never heard of and could be starting together in the Pro Bowl for years to come.”