Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing

The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, sometimes shortened to Triple Crown, consists of three races for three-year-old Thoroughbred horses. Winning all three of these Thoroughbred horse races is considered the greatest accomplishment of a Thoroughbred racehorse. The term originated in mid-19th century England and different nations where thoroughbred racing is popular each have their own Triple Crown series.

The Triple Crown is considered to be one of the most difficult triumphs to attain in all of sports.  The three Grade 1 races run in May and early June of each year consisting of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.  The complexity can be attributed to the grueling schedule of having to partake in three races within five weeks, each of which are at longer distances than the three-year-olds have previously run throughout their careers. The Belmont Stakes is extremely punishing as most thoroughbreds never run such a long distance (1 1/2 miles). TRIPLE CROWN WINNERS

  • Only 12 horses have won the Triple Crown: The Triple Crown winners are Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), and American Pharoah (2015)

All three Triple Crown legs are open to three-year-old Thoroughbreds.   In all three races, colts and geldings carry 126 pounds and fillies carry 121 lbs.

Kentucky Derby-  (1 1⁄4-mile) held annually at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May.  The race is one and a quarter miles.  A new points system was started in 2012 for Kentucky Derby qualification.

The Preakness Stakes (1 3⁄16-mile) held on the third Saturday in May each year at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a Grade I race run over a distance of one and 3/16 miles.

The Belmont Stakes- (1 1⁄2-mile)  held every June at Belmont Park in Egmont, New York. It is  1.5 miles in length, the longest race the horses will probably ever run.  The race is the third and final leg of the US Triple Crown, following exactly five weeks after the Kentucky Derby, and three weeks after the Preakness Stakes. Consequently, it is run on Saturday, but never before June 5, nor after June 11.

Triple Crown Race Distances The Kentucky Derby is one and 1/4 miles, followed 2 weeks later by The Preakness, a little shorter at one and 3/16 miles.  Three weeks after the Preakness, the Belmont is the longest at one and 1/2 miles.

Triple Crown Winners Face Fresh Horses- Owners may decide to run their horse in all three races (if they are good enough) or in just one or possibly two legs of the Triple Crown.  Thus, a horse trying to win the Triple Crown will face horses in the Belmont that didn’t run in the Preakness two weeks previously.  This makes the Triple Crown even more elusive.

California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn was a bitter man after his horse lost the 2014 Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown  to Tonalist, which did not run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness.  His horse won the first two legs and Coburn didn’t think it was fair that horses were allowed to run in the Belmont even if they didn’t run in the Derby and Preakness.

Coburn, normally mild-mannered, said it was a “coward’s way out” that horses who don’t run the other two Triple Crown races come in fresh and win this.

“It’s all or nothing. It’s not fair to these horses that are running their guts out. This is a cowards’ way out,” Coburn said. “If you’ve got a horse that earns points, that runs in the Kentucky Derby, those horses should be the only ones who should run in all three races.” Read more

He later apologized for making his comments. On Good Morning America, he said was ashamed of himself for his rants after his horse came up short in its bid to win the first Triple Crown since 1978.  Coburn blamed his post-race tirade on his desire to make many people happy.  “This is America’s horse. I wanted it so much for this horse to win the Triple Crown for the people of America,” he told ABC during an emotional interview in which he held back tears. “And I was very emotional.” Read more

Triple Crown Race Records

Fastest Kentucky Derby- The mighty Secretariat holds the record for fastest Kentucky Derby, which has held since his 1973 victory in the Run for the Roses.

Secretariat Finally Gets Preakness Record- Secretariat did not hold the record in the Preakness,  however, until 2012, even though experts at the race agreed his 1973 race was indeed record-setting. The official timer had malfunctioned and the Maryland Racing Commission refused to award the record to Secretariat, It took 39 years, a movie on Secretariat,  new technology leading to even more evidence, and a rule change which allowed the use of information beyond official clockings to determine race times to convince the commission to finally declare the fastest Preakness ever was run by the mighty Secretariat.

Fastest Belmont- The fastest Belmont Stakes was also clocked by Secretariat and since it is rare for horses to run one and a half miles anymore, this record might not be broken for a long time.  In the 1973 Belmont Stakes, Secretariat won the race by an amazing 31 lengths!

Interesting Facts

Sham- In the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Secretariat defeated Sham, who was runner-up in the Derby and Preakness, even though Sham ran one of the 4 fastest Kentucky Derby times recorded.

Alydar- In 1978, Alydar finished a close second to Triple Crown winner Affirmed in all three races, a feat not achieved before or repeated since. He has been described as the best horse in the history of Thoroughbred racing never to have won a championship.  In all three legs of the Triple Crown, Alydar lost to Affirmed by a combined total of less than two lengths.

Read Quiet was Real Close- In 1998, Real Quiet won the Derby and Preakness and was winning the Belmont, but could not hold on as Victory Gallop edged him out by a nose. Visa had offered $5 million to a Triple Crown winner, and owner Mike Pegram was just a nose away from that $5 million!

Seattle Slew-In 1977, Seattle Slew became the first horse to win the Triple Crown undefeated.

Triple Crown near misses:  A total of 22 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but did not win the Belmont.  Nine of these near misses have been since 1997. Big Brown just missed the Triple Crown when he was pulled up at Belmont in 2008. In 2012, I’ll Have Another won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but was scratched the day before the Belmont Stakes, due to tendonitis. In 2014, California Chrome finished in a tie for 4th place, extending the longest Triple Crown drought in history, which ended one year later when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015.

  • Since 1978, 13 horses have won the first two races, but have fallen short of the Triple Crown:  1979- Spectacular Bid, 1981- Pleasant Colony, 1987- Alysheba, 1989- Sunday Silence, 1997- Silver Charm, 1998- Real Quiet, 1999- Charismatic, 2002- War Emblem, 2003 Funny Cide, 2004- Smarty Jones, 2008- Big Brown, 2012- I’ll Have Another, 2014- California Chrome
  • There have been 46 horses who won two out of the three Triple Crown races but only 21 who won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to fail in the Belmont Stakes.
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Belmont Stakes 2014- Pedigree

Is this finally the year of the elusive 12th Triple Crown?

Some information from Bleacherreport.com:

There are few horses in the history of racing with as much momentum as California Chrome carries into the Belmont Stakes, and the horse’s hopes of winning the Triple Crown are the most realistic in a long time.

Not only did California Chrome win at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but he also won at the Santa Anita Derby, San Felipe Stakes, California Cup Derby and King Glorious Stakes

For a horse that is the son of a $8,000 mare and was studded for $2,500, few expected him to be a serious contender. As the distant relative of Seattle Slew (1977 Triple Crown winner), racing in big events is in his blood.

Horse racing insider Bill Oppenheim … about how tough the profession of breeding horses is and how hard it is to find a challenger worthy of winning all three races:

“I think it’s important to remember that it’s livestock being bred here, and you can only be so precise when you’re trying to breed. Even when we’re talking about human beings, full brothers and sisters can be vastly different, not only in temperament but in looks.

You always shoot for the best, but breeding is different from racing, so more of the genetics apply. It’s not one of those deals where you breed the best with the best and come out with the best. That’s not how it works.”

Source: Belmont Stakes Picks 2014

Daily Racing Form‘s John P.Sparkman penned an excellent analysis on how well California Chrome’s bloodlines compared to previous Triple Crown winners:

“…there is no way to argue that Lucky Pulpit is anywhere close to the same class as either a racehorse or sire as the sires of the 11 previous Triple Crown winners.”

If California Chrome can pull off the spectacular and take first place at the Belmont Stakes, the victory would prove to be even more amazing considering his underwhelming pedigree. Secretariat and Seattle Slew—Triple Crown winners in the 1970s—are buried deep within his bloodlines and could be an ancestral explanation for this horse’s surprising display of strength and speed in 2014.

Source: 2014 Belmont Stakes Field