The Triple Crown™: A Long and Storied History

Posted by Darragh Farrelly on Thu, Jun 16, 2016

If you are, like us, feeling a void in your life as the illustrious Triple Crown™ season has now drawn to a close; fear not, there are just over 300 days until the first jewel in the crown of the Triple Crown™ and the most exciting two minutes in sport: The 2017 Kentucky Derby®!

While this season’s Triple Crown™ script ebbed and flowed, from Nyquist’s cutting edge performance in the Derby, to Exaggerator raining on his parade by turning the tables in the mud in the Preakness and Creator’s shock victory over a mile-and-a-half in the Belmont Stakes, we were greeted with excitement, tension and shock, if not a thirteenth winner of the Triple Crown™.

The term ‘Triple Crown™’ was coined by Charles Hatton of the Daily Racing Form in 1930 after Gallant Fox won all three races. Though some journalists used the phrase to refer to the races as far back as 1923 (Sir Barton was the first to complete the Triple Crown™ in 1919), Hatton is regarded as pitting the term into common use.

Triple Crown™ Facts

Before we gauge Triple Crown™ winner according to rank, let’s take a look at some facts and figures:

  • The Triple Crown™ series only technically became possible with the inauguration of the Kentucky Derby in 1875. The Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867 and the Preakness in 1873.
  • Since 1931, the order of Triple Crown™ races has been the Kentucky Derby first, followed by the Preakness Stakes, and then the Belmont Stakes.
  • Each Triple Crown™ race is open to bothcolts and fillies. Though fillies have won each of the individual Triple Crown™ races, none have won the Triple Crown itself.
  • The three Triple Crown™ races have attracted over 4,000 entrants to date. Of these, 289 horses have won a single leg of the Triple Crown™, 52 horses have won two of the races (23 the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, 18 the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, and 11 the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes).
  • Only one horse, Alydar, has finished second in all three races. He was defeated by 1978 Triple Crown™ winner Affirmed in all three races by a total margin of two lengths.

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Close Calls

Since all three races came into existence, 23 horses have the first two legs of the Triple Crown™ (Derby and Preakness), but failed in the Belmont. In recent years, I’ll Have Another (2012), was scratched from the Belmont the day before the race and California Chrome (2014) finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes.

The 5 Greatest Triple Crown™ Winners of All-Time

Winning the Triple Crown is an incredible achievement, but does it make an ordinary horse great? When considering the long history of all three races, the answer to that question is no, not necessarily. Twelve horses have swept the famed series, not all of them were great, but some were the greatest thoroughbreds of all time. Here, we rank the best 5:

5. Affirmed, 1978.

Almost as well known for his rivalry with Alydar as winning the Triple Crown. The two battled all three races, finishing one-two in each. Affirmed later went head to head with Seattle Slew, the only time Triple Crown winners have met each other, with Slew winning both of the races.

4.  War Admiral, 1937.

He was difficult at the starting gate and delayed the Kentucky Derby by eight minutes and the Belmont by nine. Nonetheless, he was clearly the best horse that year. He was painted as the antagonist in the movie "Seabiscuit," losing a match race to America’s hero. Bred by his owner Samuel D. Riddle, he was sired by Man o’ War, winner of the 1920 Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

3. Citation, 1948.

The first horse ever to win $1 million, Citation was the eighth winner of the Triple Crown™. He won the Jersey Stakes by 11 lengths between the Preakness and Belmont. His usual jockey Al Snider never actually made it to the Triple Crown™ races as he drowned while fishing, replaced by Eddie Arcaro. Later in his career, Citation won 16 straight North American stakes races, a feat only to be bettered by the outstanding mare Zenyatta many moons later in 2010.

2. Seattle Slew, 1977.

Seattle Slew became the first horse to become a Triple Crown™ winner having never previously lost a race to that point. Having gone off as a 1-2 favorite for the Kentucky Derby, his best showing was undoubtedly in the Belmont Stakes. His best race was the Belmont, his coronation, which he won by four lengths. Seattle Slew’s greatest feat was his ability to justify favoritism every time he went on the track

1.  Secretariat, 1973. 

Seeing is believing, and Secretariat had to be seen to be believed. Voted by ESPN as the 35th best athlete of the 20th century, Secretariat was simply the greatest thoroughbred in racing history. His 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes is the most spectacular showing in horse racing history. Why so good? A horse of huge stature and phenomenal power, he was a physical freak. Upon his autopsy, his heart was found to be twice the size of a normal heart, allowing him to process oxygen in way that gave him such great stamina. To this day, Secretariat holds the record time for all three Triple Crown™ races; the Kentucky Derby in 1:59, the Preakness Stakes, clocked at 1:53, and the Belmont (2:24).


Be There in 2017!

Enough to whet the appetite? Methinks so. Nothing beats being there, don’t miss your chance to witness the Triple Crown™ in 2017 as it unfolds! Get your exclusive package, as guests will enjoy privileged views of the track and high-end amenities such as gourmet dining, open bars, outdoor viewing platforms and private wagering stations. Book your official ticket package with DerbyExperiences today to experience the incredible premium seating locations, unmatched access to exclusive hospitality, and more!


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