It is no longer necessary to
prove that the Triple Crown is the most elusive
prize in sports. It has been 27 years since Affirmed, the latest of eleven
Thoroughbreds in history, achieved the prestigious feat in 1978. There have
been but three Triple Crown winners since
Citation in 1948.
There was one spell, a quarter of
a century, from Citation in 1948 until 1973, that brought talk of tinkering with the scheduling or devising
some sort of relief to make the Triple Crown more accessible because it
seemed it would never again be won. Then Secretariat came along and romped
through the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1973.
When Funny Cide lost the potential Triple Crown at the 2003 Belmont Stakes, a new time elapsed record
was set. Six times in the last eight years a horse has gone to New York with a chance at a $5 million dollar bonus only to
falter in the "Test of a Champion".
The intriguing series of spring
races is over 125 years old with the prize becoming available
in 1875, with the first running of the Kentucky Derby, the last of the Triple
Crown events to be introduced. The Preakness dates back to 1873, while the
Belmont Stakes began in 1867.
Johnny Loftus, rider
First Triple Crown Winner, 1919
Chestnut colt, 1916 by *Star Shoot—Lady Sterling, by Hanover
J. K. L. Ross, Owner
Madden and Gooch, Breeder
M. G. Bedwell, Trainer
A Genuine Iron Horse
Barton, a foal of 1916 bred by Preston Madden, was born too soon. He was
never hailed as a Triple Crown winner because the feat had not been named
when he swept the Derby,
Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1919. “Triple
Crown” began appearing in print about 1936, far too late for Sir
Commander J. K. L. Ross, who
owned a farm in Maryland where the former Freestate harness
track was located, purchased Sir Barton for $10,000 as a 2-year-old at Saratoga. Ross had an outstanding 3-year-old prospect in
1919 — Billy Kelly — but Sir Barton, his stablemate, who had
never won a race, was started in the Derby as part of the Ross entry.
Sir Barton broke on top in the Derby and never looked back. Perhaps more amazing, Sir
Barton was immediately shipped to Pimlico because that year the Maryland classic was run on Wednesday, just four days after
the Derby. Once again the unheralded Sir Barton
galloped home by four lengths in a display of stamina. In the Belmont, he set an American record of 2:17 2/5 for the mile and three-eighths, the distance
Second Triple Crown Winner, 1930
Bay colt, 1927 by
*Sir Gallahad III—Marguerite, by Celt
Belair Stud, Owner-Breeder
James Fitzsimmons, Trainer
Fox of Belair
Earle Sande, rider
Fox was bred and raced by William Woodward.
The son of Sir Gallahad III had a
medicore 2-year-old season winning but two stakes. It was hardly an indication of his
3-yearold superiority. After capturing the Wood Memorial, Gallant Fox swept the Preakness, Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in
that order. He is the only Triple Crown winner to win the Preakness week
before the Derby.
Later as a 3-year-old he captured
the Dwyer Stakes, Arlington Classic, Saratoga Cup, Lawrence Realization and
the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The “Fox of Belair” was retired for
breeding after his 3-year-old campaign, which netted $308,275, a single
season record then.
Gallant Fox sired the winners of
more than ninety races
before his death in 1954 at the age
of 27. His most famous son
was Omaha, the 1935 Triple Crown winner. Omaha enabled him
to become the only Triple Crown winner to sire a victor in the
renowned Derby, Preakness, Belmont series.
Third Triple Crown Winner, 1935
Chestnut colt, 1932, by Gallant Fox—Flambino, by *Wrack
Belair Stud, Owner-Breeder
James Fitzsimmons, Trainer
Like Father, Like Son
Willie Saunders, rider Bert Morgan Photo
Omaha was born in Kentucky in 1932, just two years after
his sire, Gallant Fox, had won the Triple Crown. As a weanling, he was sent to Belair in Maryland where he was broken as a yearling and turned over
to trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.
The William Woodward owned and
bred colt, like his sire,
was not overly impressive at two but
improved with age. After
a third in the Wood Memorial, he set sail for the Triple Crown.
Nellie Flag, a filly, was favored in the Derby but Omaha rallied and won by a length and a half. The
Preakness was more of a romp as he won by six lengths. He became the third
Triple Crown winner with a length and a half victory in the Belmont.
Omaha is the only Triple Crown winner to race abroad.
Woodward sent him to England at four. After taking two secondary
stakes, Omaha just missed winning the Ascot Gold
Charles Kurtsinger, rider C. C. Cook Photo
Fourth Triple Crown Winner, 1937
Brown colt, 1934, by Man o’ War—Brushup, by Sweep
Glen Riddle Farm, Owner
S. D. Riddle, Breeder
George Conway, Trainer
War Admiral was a smaller copy of
his illustrious sire, Man
War. Although he stood only 15.2 hands, War Admiral was Man
War’s best offspring. Owned and bred by Sam Riddle, who
Man O’ War, War Admiral reached his peak as a 3-year-old
so-so 2-year-old season.
At three, War Admiral, who prepped in Maryland for the
Crown, recorded a perfect eight-for-eight year.
In the Derby, War Admiral led from flag to finish, but
Preakness produced one of the most memorable battles in
Crown history. Pompoon and War Admiral ran head-to-head
the top of the stretch. At the
wire, it was War Admiral by a head.
The Belmont Stakes proved to be
War Admiral’s easiest victory in the Triple Crown despite his stumbling
at the start.
fall of 1937, War Admiral won the first Pimlico Special and
named Horse of the Year.
In all, War Admiral won 21 of 26
starts and finished out
money only one time.
Eddie Arcaro, rider Bert Morgan Photo
Fifth Triple Crown Winner, 1941
Chestnut colt, 1938, by *Blenheim
II—Dustwhirl, by Sweep
Calumet Farm, Owner-Breeder
B. A. Jones, Trainer
Calumet Star In ’41
Once Trainer Ben Jones solved
Whirlaway’s bewildering habit
of running extremely wide on the turns, there was no stopping
the Calumet colt sired by Blenheim II. Jones
devised a special
blinker for the chestnut colt just in time for the 1941 Kentucky
With Eddie Arcaro riding,
Whirlaway made a dramatic stretch
run at Churchill Downs to set a new time record as he ran the
mile and a quarter in 2.01 2/5 and won by eight lengths.
A week later, Whirlaway again
came from far back to
roll home in the Preakness by five and a half lengths. Arcaro
described his Preakness experience like “riding a tornado.” Only
two challenged him in the Belmont
and Whirlaway won racing’s
fifth Triple Crown and was the first of four in the 1940’s.
Whirlaway, who won five other
stakes in addition to the
Triple Crown in 1941, was named Horse of the Year. He repeated
for the title the following season when he accounted for eleven
stakes. Whirlaway was retired at five after he pulled up lame after
his second race in 1943. In all, he made 60 starts, won 32 races
and was out of the money only four times.
Sixth Triple Crown Winner, 1943
Brown colt, 1940, by Reigh Count—Quickly, by Haste
Mrs. John D. Hertz, Breeder-Owner
D. J. Cameron, Trainer
Speed to Spare
Johnny Longden, rider Bert Clark Thayer Photo
Count Fleet shot like a meteor
across the racing stage when World War II was raging in 1942 and 1943. After
winning ten of fifteen starts as a 2-year-old, he was all but conceded the
Triple Crown after being complimented with 132 pounds in the Experimental
A son of Reigh Count, the 1928 Derby winner, and foaled by Quickly by Haste, Count Fleet
carried the colors of Mrs. John D. Hertz, wife of the Chicago taxicab executive. A striking brown colt, Count Fleet
was hailed as a successor to Man O’ War by some after his perfect six
for six 3-year-old season.
The war-time ban on racing in Florida forced Count Fleet to train at Oaklawn Park in
preparation for his 3-year-old campaign. In the Triple Crown, Count Fleet,
with Johnny Longden riding, found little opposition. He galloped in the Derby, captured the Preakness with only three challengers
by eight lengths, and then, after taking the Withers, annexed the Triple
Crown with a 25-length triumph in the Belmont Stakes.
Seventh Triple Crown Winner, 1946
Chestnut colt, 1943, by Bold Venture—Igual, by Equipoise
King Ranch, Owner-Breeder
M. Hirsch, Trainer
Surprise in 1946
Warren Mehrtens, rider Bert Morgan Photo
Assault, the seventh Triple Crown
winner, overcame long
odds against his feet in 1946.
To start with, his dam, Iqual,
sired by Equipoise, never raced. She was sickly as a foal and never recovered
sufficiently to stand the rigors of training. Her first two foals were not notable. Her third, Assault, sired
by Bold Venture, the 1936 Derby
winner, had the misfortune to step on a surveyor’s stake at the King Ranch in Texas where he was born.
The hoof healed but Assault had
a tendency to favor the foot, making it appear that he was crippled. His
trainer, Max Hirsch, at first thought the colt would not train because of his crooked foot. Assault was not
impressive at two, winning only two races. Even
after taking the Experimental Handicap and Wood Memorial at three, he went off at 8–1 odds in the Derby.
Favored in the Preakness,
Assault won by a neck, after holding a four length advantage with an eighth
mile to go. Then jockey Warren Mehrtens changed his tactics in the Belmont, reserving the colt and charging from behind to win
by three lengths.
Eighth Triple Crown Winner, 1948
Bay colt, 1945, by
Bull Lea—*Hydroplane II, by Hyperion
Calumet Farm, Breeder-Owner
H. A. Jones, Trainer
Racing’s First Millionaire
Citation, from Calumet Farm,
capped the glorious ’40’s
decade — the most glamorous in Triple Crown lore as four horses
attained sport’s most elusive prize.
There is little argument that the bay
colt by Bull Lea —
Hydroplane II by Hyperion, was the greatest horse of the ’40’s.
Some observers believe he was the most accomplished horse
ever to race, even superior to Man O’ War. This debate probably
will never be settled. Certainly he is on everyone’s list of top
Thoroughbreds in history.
Big Cy, although bred in Kentucky by Warren Wright, made
his debut in Maryland, winning his first start at Havre de
1947. Later that year he captured the Pimlico Futurity on his way
to an 8 for 9 year at
As a 3-year-old, Citation went
19 for 20. His only loss occurred
at Havre de Grace in a sprint race he should not have lost. He
was carried wide by a tiring horse and finished second to Saggy
in the Chesapeake Trial.
The Triple Crown was hardly a
challenge for Citation.
His only real opposition in the Derby came from his stablemate
Coaltown. Only three horses challenged him in the
Preakness and the Belmont was also easily accomplished.
Ron Turcotte, rider
Maryland Jockey Club Photo
Ninth Triple Crown Winner, 1973
1970, by Bold Ruler—Somethingroyal, by *Princequillo
Meadow Stable, Breeder-Owner
Lucien Laurin, Trainer
After 25 Years—Secretariat
Secretariat, often described as the
perfect horse in appearance
with his resplendent chestnut coat, might have been horse
racing’s greatest ambassador of the 20th century. The massive
Virginia-bred colt from the Meadow Stable of Helen “Penny”
Chenery, made a shambles of the Triple Crown in 1973.
Before he was nominated for the
Triple Crown, Secretariat
recorded a first — the first 2-year-old ever to be voted Horse of
the Year. The son of Bold Ruler-Somethingroyal was a full-fledged
celebrity well in advance of his Triple Crown heroics, having
been syndicated for a then record $6,080,000 early in his 3-yearold
In the Kentucky Derby, he set a
record for the mile and a
quarter, running the distance in 1.59-2/5. In a powerful move
from last on the clubhouse turn, Secretariat captured the
Preakness with ease. In the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat put on an
awesome show, winning by 31 lengths to gain the Triple Crown,
a prize which had gone unclaimed for a quarter of a century.
Tenth Triple Crown Winner, 1977
Dark brown colt,
1974, by Bold Reasoning—My Charmer, by Poker
Mrs. Karen Taylor, Owner
Ben S. Castleman, Breeder
William H. Turner, Trainer
Jean Cruguet, rider
Maryland Jockey Club Photo
Seattle Slew holds an unique
Triple Crown record.
The grandson of Bold Ruler is the
only Thoroughbred in history to capture the Triple Crown with an unbeaten
record. After the Triple Crown, Seattle Slew lost only three of seventeen
career starts on his way to total earnings of $1,208,727.
Bred in Kentucky by Ben S. Castleman, Seattle Slew was purchased at the bargain price of $17,500 at a Kentucky yearling auction by Mickey Taylor for his wife
Karen, in whose silks the son of Bold Reasoning raced.
Veterinarian Dr. James Hill and
his wife Sally shared ownership of Seattle Slew. It was Hill who had
recommended the purchase of the colt. Seattle Slew was named the 2-year-old
champion in 1976 and Horse of the Year as well as the top 3-year-old in 1977.
William H. “Billy” Turner, Jr., a former steeplechase rider from
Monkton, Md. was only 37 when he trained Seattle Slew to his 2- and
Seattle Slew was retired for
breeding in 1979 after being syndicated for $12 million.
Eleventh Triple Crown Winner, 1978
Chestnut colt, 1975,
by Exclusive Native—Won’t Tell You,
by Crafty Admiral
Harbor View Farm, Owner-Breeder
Lazaro S. Barrera, Trainer
Toughest Triple Crown
Maryland Jockey Club Photo
Affirmed became the last Triple
Crown winner in 1978 and it was not easy. Affirmed’s combined margin of
victory in the Triple Crown was less than two lengths — 11/2 lengths in
the Derby, a neck in the Preakness and a head in
the Belmont. Amazingly, each time it was Alydar,
battling him to the wire. The Florida-bred colt — the first from that
state to win the Triple Crown — raced for the Harbor View Farm of Mr.
and Mrs. Louis Wolfson.
Affirmed won 22 of his 29 career
starts, earning $2,393,818.
The chestnut son of Exclusive Native, was named Horse of the
Year twice as well as 3-year-old champion in 1978. As a 4-year-old he
captured seven stakes and beat out Spectacular Bid for Horse of the Year
honors. After his 4-year-old campaign he was retired to Spendthrift Farm and
syndicated for $14.4 million.