Horse racing’s Triple Crown has become one of the most elusive titles in all of sports. The Triple Crown has distinguished all-time great horses from the all-time best horses.
The Triple Crown is made up of three individual races — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby is held annually on the first Saturday in May, the Preakness Stakes is two weeks after and the Belmont Stakes is three weeks after the Preakness.
The Triple Crown has become so elusive that there hasn’t been a winner in 37 years. American Pharoah won the 2015 Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 2nd, and is looking to win the Preakness Stakes this Saturday to get 2/3 of the way there.
Here is the list of the 11 horses that have won the Triple Crown:
|1919||Sir Barton||John Loftus||H. G. Bedwell||J. K. L. Ross|
|1930||Gallant Fox||Earl Sande||James Fitzsimmons||Belair Stud|
|1935||Omaha||William Saunders||James Fitzsimmons||Belair Stud|
|1937||War Admiral||Charley Kurtsinger||George Conway||Samuel D. Riddle|
|1941||Whirlaway||Eddie Arcaro||Ben A. Jones||Calumet Farm|
|1943||Count Fleet||John Longden||Don Cameron||Mrs. J. D. Hertz|
|1946||Assault||Warren Mehrtens||Max Hirsch||King Ranch|
|1948||Citation||Eddie Arcaro||Ben A. Jones||Calumet Farm|
|1973||Secretariat||Ron Turcotte||Lucien Laurin||Meadow Stable|
|1977||Seattle Slew||Jean Cruguet||William Turner, Jr.||Karen L. Taylor|
|1978||Affirmed||Steve Cauthen||Lazaro S. Barrera||Harbor View Farm|
The two race horses that are regarded as the most accomplished in North American history are Man O’ War and Secretariat. Each horse is 1-2 in Blood-horse Magazine’s list of the top 100 Race Horses of the 20th Century.
Coincidentally, Man O’ War did not win the Triple Crown because the horse did not run in the Kentucky Derby, mostly thanks to owner Samuel D. Riddle not wanting to run his horse in a Kentucky race. The horse still won an astonishing 20 out of his 21 lifetime races and most horse racing historians believe that Man O’ War would have easily have won the 1920 Triple Crown.
Man O’ War is one of horse racing’s greatest sires, too. Man O’ War sired the 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral who is also regarded as one of the greatest race horses of the 20th century.
Man O’ War’s chief competition for greatest race horse of the 20th century is Secretariat who won the 1973 Triple Crown. Secretariat was impressive in the Kentucky derby and Preakness, but the horse’s greatest triumph was obliterating the track record at Belmont Park — breaking the mile-and-a-half record by over two full seconds — and winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 25 lengths. The race is regarded by the sport as the greatest individual race that a horse has ever won:
The only time there were Triple Crown winners in back-to-back years was when Seattle Slew and Affirmed did it in 1977 and 1978.
The 1978 Triple Crown campaign may top all of the Triple Crown seasons, mainly due to the historical implications and duels that took place between two horses: Affirmed and Alydar. The rivalry between the two horses isn’t a known two-team rivalry like the Yankees vs. Red Sox is, but it is considered to be the greatest and closest rivalry in the history of horse racing.
In all three Triple Crown races, Affirmed finished first and Alydar finished second… with each race being closer than the last. In the 1978 Kentucky Derby Affirmed defeated a closing Alydar by almost two lengths. Affirmed defeated Alydar by a half-length in the 1978 Preakness, setting up the 1978 Belmont stakes as a place for history:
Alydar’s performances proved one thing: the quality and depth of horses competing for the Triple Crown had exponentially grown, and now, in any given Triple Crown season, there are 2-4 horses that can contend right up until the Belmont Stakes.
Since 1978, 13 horses have won the first two races of the Triple Crown ultimately to fall short in the Belmont Stakes — or in I’ll Have Another’s case, not run at all. The closest a horse has arguably come since Affirmed was Smarty Jones in 2004. Smarty Jones led in the stretch before Birdstone overtook him in the wire and won the race by just over one length:
There’s a reason why many consider it the toughest achievement in sports.
American Pharoah attempts history this Saturday when he steps onto the track at Pimlico looking to do what 13 horses have done before him since 1978… while also working on becoming the 13th horse who can add his name to that illustrious list.