The History of the Triple Crown

HHR’s History of the Triple Crown- Introduction

Affirmed beats Alydar in BelmontCan you feel it? The 139th Kentucky Derby is over and now that Orb rallied down the stretch and captured the Running of the Roses in truly impressive form, that same old feeling rises up in every horse racing fan mere seconds after the race. That same feeling resides within horse players every year since 1978, when Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby for that year and set his eyes on the Preakness. That hopeful feeling and that one burning question that has plagued horse racing fanatics since Affirmed. Could we have another Triple Crown winner on our hands? Could this be the end of the 35 year drought?

SecretariatI was born in ’75, so I was far too young to remember Seattle Slew and Affirmed’s triumphs in ’77 and ’78, not to mention missing the legendary performance of Secretariat in ’73. I grew up with the stories of these incredible horses and from a very early age, I couldn’t help but wonder when I would get to witness the winning of another Triple Crown. That thought has remained with me to this day, almost teasing me every time a champion horse comes close, but just doesn’t quite make it. If you’ve been a horse racing fan for very long, you know exactly what I mean.

What Is The American Triple Crown?

Seattle Slew's Triple Crown TrophyFor those new to the sport, the Triple Crown is the highest honor for an American 3 year old thoroughbred. The award is made of three parts (as the name implies) that includes the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont. Only 11 horses have captured the Triple Crown with the first winner, Sir Barton, accomplishing this task way back in 1919 and the most recent winner, Affirmed, in 1978 (although “recent” is a term I use, grudgingly.) This alone testifies to the difficulty of winning the Crown.  It should also shed light as to why this achievement is so revered within the horse racing industry. Many great horses have come and gone, but the 11 Triple Crown horses will live on forever in the minds of racing fans everywhere and rightfully so.

The Triple Crown Before It Was the Triple Crown

HourlessThe Triple Crown and its 3 races have quite a unique history. As it stands today, the Kentucky Derby runs on the first Saturday in May, the Preakness on the 3rd Saturday in May and the Belmont on the 3rd Saturday following the Preakness, which is generally on the 1st or 2nd Saturday in June. But it wasn’t always this way. Prior to 1931, there were 11 times that the Preakness was run before the Kentucky Derby. Even worse, there were 2 times that the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness were run on the same day! On May 12th of 1917, these 2 races went off producing Omar Khayyam as the Kentucky Derby winner and Kalitan as the Preakness winner, but not such a big deal since Hourless (pictured to the right) won the Belmont that year. But in 1922, the Derby and the Preakness ran at the same time and Pillory, winner of the Preakness, went on to win the Belmont. You would think that for people of that era, Pillory might well have been the first “possible” Triple Crown let-down since he couldn’t run in 2 races at once, but he was not.

Sir Barton Looking back from 1875 to 1919 when Sir Barton first won the Triple Crown, there were 5 horses that won 2 legs of the Triple Crown. All 5 of these horses won the Preakness and the Belmont, but not the Kentucky Derby. They were Cloverbrook (1877), Duke of Magenta (1878), Grenada (1880), Saunterer (1881) and Belmar (1895). For a little over the next 2 decades, no horse would win 2 legs of the Triple Crown until 1919 when Sir Barton swept all 3.


Stay tuned for the next post on the 1st Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton.





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Mike Jr, eldest son of Mike Lane Sr, is co-lead author at and was raised on thoroughbred horse racing and handicapping. Although father and son often butt heads on their selections, they both have much love and admiration for the sport. Mike Jr. brings a new, fresh perspective to horse racing and is often in search of new angles to try.

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