The Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing is an annual series of three stakes races for 3-year-old horses that takes place over a five-week period in May and June. Winning the Triple Crown -- by finishing first in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes -- is considered the highest achievement in horse racing. Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown champion in 1919, although the term to describe the feat was not used until 1930. Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown, with the most recent coming in 1978 when Affirmed captured each leg by close margins over rival Alydar.
While some other countries have their own version of The Triple Crown of horse racing, the most prestigious is the annual series that takes place in the United States, comprised of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
The three races that make up the Triple Crown are among the oldest in North America, with the Belmont Stakes the first of the trio to be staged, in 1867. The fourth-oldest race on the continent and named after New York financier August Belmont, the Belmont Stakes was first held at Jerome Park in the Bronx. After a time at Morris Park, Belmont Park was built in Elmont, N.Y., in 1905 and began to host the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes that year.
The Preakness Stakes began in 1873, among the races introduced for the initial spring schedule at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore. The middle jewel of the Triple Crown has been run at various lengths over the years and now is set at 1 3/16 miles.
The Kentucky Derby was first run in 1875, the year that Churchill Downs was built in Louisville by Colonel M. Lewis Clark. The 1¼-mile race, also known as the "Run For The Roses," has emerged to become one of the most recognizable horse races in the world, and is now the longest continuously held sporting event in the country.
The three stakes races were not collectively termed the Triple Crown until the early 1930s, and prior to that time there was not a set schedule for the three events. In fact, the Preakness was held earlier than the Kentucky Derby a number of times in its early years and was twice run (in 1917 and 1922) on the same day as the Kentucky Derby.
Since 1931, the order of the Triple Crown races has begun with the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness Stakes and concluding with the Belmont Stakes. Modern-day racing now sets the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May; the Preakness takes place two weeks after the Derby, and the Belmont is scheduled three weeks after the Preakness (on either the first or second Saturday of June).
The first Triple Crown champion was Sir Barton in 1919, although the achievement of winning all three races was not collectively termed the Triple Crown until 1930. The descendant of a British triple crown winner, Sir Barton failed to place in his first two races as a juvenile before switching owners and trainers prior to competing as a 3-year-old. Not considered a favorite at the Kentucky Derby in 1919, Sir Barton held off more noted challengers for the victory. A win in the Preakness came less than a week later, and the chestnut-colored colt then won the Withers Stakes before taking the Belmont Stakes to complete the first sweep.
One of horse racing's legendary champions -- Man O' War -- emerged on the scene the following year, winning every race he entered as a 3-year-old. He set track records while cruising to victory in the 1920 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and even defeated Sir Barton in a late-season challenge match race. But with Man O' War's handlers deciding not to run him earlier at the Kentucky Derby, the great horse did not claim the Triple Crown.
In 1922, Pillory won both the Preakness and the Belmont but, like Man O' War, did not enter the Kentucky Derby, which was held on the same day as the Preakness that year. The scheduling of the three races in the sport's early years saw numerous changes, before the order of the Triple Crown legs (which has been followed to this day) was established in the early 1930s -- with the Kentucky Derby to be run in early May of each year and followed by the Preakness and then the Belmont.
Three horses won the Triple Crown during the 1930s, starting with Gallant Fox in 1930. He won nine of 10 races as a 3-year-old, losing only the Travers Stakes, and was retired to stud after the 1930 racing season. Gallant Fox soon became the first (and only) Triple Crown winner to sire a second-generation champion of the Triple Crown after his foal Omaha captured the three stakes races in 1935.Two years later, War Admiral -- sired by the great Man O' War -- finished first in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become a popular Triple Crown champion in 1937.
One of horse racing's top jockeys, Eddie Arcaro, rode Whirlaway to Triple Crown glory in 1941. Bred by Calumet Farm -- which has produced eight Kentucky Derby winners -- Whirlaway was voted Horse of the Year in both 1941 and 1942. Count Fleet went undefeated as a 3-year-old in 1943, recovering from a leg injury early in the year to capture the Triple Crown. Sired by a Kentucky Derby champion, Count Fleet won that year's Belmont Stakes by 25 lengths, a record that would stand for 30 years.
Assault became an unlikely Triple Crown winner in 1946, one year after health problems affected his record as a 2-year-old, when he posted two wins in nine starts. And the horse with a deformed right front hoof wasn't a favorite at the Kentucky Derby, but he won the race at Churchill Downs by 8 lengths. After a close victory at the Preakness, Assault came from behind to win the Belmont Stakes and become the seventh Triple Crown champion.
The 1948 racing season featured a dominant 3-year-old in Citation, who finished first in 19 of 20 starts and claimed the Triple Crown in impressive fashion. Citation tied Count Fleet's record time in the Belmont Stakes and allowed Arcaro to become the first jockey to ride two horses to the Triple Crown.
After four horses won the Triple Crown in the 1940s, there was not a single Triple Crown winner in the 24 years following Citation's achievement. Seven horses did claim victory in the first two of the three Triple Crown legs over that period -- including Northern Dancer (in 1964), Majestic Prince (1969) and Canonero II (1971) -- but could not complete the trio of wins.
The drought was broken in 1973, when Secretariat set race records in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown champion in 25 years. Nicknamed "Big Red," Secretariat pulled away to win the Kentucky Derby in 1:59.4, a record time that still stands. Victory in the Preakness came by 2½ lengths, before Secretariat decimated a five-horse field to win by an amazing 31 lengths in the Belmont Stakes. The margin of victory broke Count Fleet's record in the 1943 race, and his 2:24 finishing time remains the fastest in 1½ miles on dirt in the history of horse racing.
In 1977, Seattle Slew became the first horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated. The dark brown colt finished strong to take the Derby and the Preakness before outlasting the field at the Belmont to join the nine previous Triple Crown champions. The following year featured one of the great rivalries in Triple Crown history, as Affirmed nipped Alydar in each of the three legs to become the 11th horse to accomplish the feat. The grandson of Triple Crown champion War Admiral, Affirmed held off a charging Alydar to win close finishes at the Derby and the Preakness. In the Belmont, Alydar had a slight lead at the stretch before losing by a nose and thus becoming the only horse in history to finish second in each leg of the Triple Crown.
Since Affirmed's achievement in 1978, a number of horses have had the opportunity for a Triple Crown by winning the first two legs. Spectacular Bid (in 1979) and Pleasant Colony (in 1981) both finished third in the Belmont Stakes after victorious runs in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
Sunday Silence's attempt in 1989 ended with a second-place finish at Belmont Park. The same fate was met by Silver Charm in 1997 and one year later by Real Quiet, who was nipped by a nose at the finish line of the Belmont by winner Victory Gallop. In 1995, Thunder Gulch captured the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont, while Timber Country took the Preakness. Both horses were trained by D. Wayne Lukas, making him the first trainer to win a Triple Crown without a Triple-Crown winning horse.
In the past decade, four horses have won the Derby and the Preakness only to fall short at the Belmont, including War Emblem in 2002 (eighth at the Belmont), Funny Cide in 2003 (third at the Belmont), Smarty Jones in 2004 (second in the Belmont), and Big Brown in 2008 (did not finish Belmont due to hoof injury).
List of Horse Racing Triple Crown Winners
|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|
HORSE RACING TOPICS
WON 1ST 2 LEGS, SINCE 1979
|2012||I'll Have Another||DNS|