Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing (United States)
In the United States, the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, commonly known as the Triple Crown, is a title awarded to a three-year-old Thoroughbred horse who wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. The three races were inaugurated in different years, the last being the Kentucky Derby in 1875. The Triple Crown Trophy, commissioned in 1950 but awarded to all previous winners as well as those after 1950, is awarded to a Triple Crown winner. The races are traditionally run in May and early June of each year, although global events have resulted in schedule adjustments, such as in 1945 and 2020.
The first winner of all three Triple Crown races was Sir Barton in 1919. Some journalists began using the term Triple Crown to refer to the three races as early as 1923, but it was not until Gallant Fox won the three events in 1930 that Charles Hatton of the Daily Racing Form put the term into common use.
In the history of the Triple Crown, 13 horses have won all three races: 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), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018). As of 2018, American Pharoah and Justify are the only living Triple Crown winners.
James E. "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons was the first trainer to win the Triple Crown more than once; he trained both Gallant Fox and Fox's son Omaha for the Belair Stud breeding farm. Gallant Fox and Omaha are the only father-son duo to win the Triple Crown. Bob Baffert became the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice, training American Pharoah and Justify. Belair Stud and Calumet Farm are tied as the owners with the most Triple Crown victories with two apiece. Calumet Farms won with Whirlaway and Citation. Eddie Arcaro rode both of Calumet Farms' Triple Crown champions and is the only jockey to win more than one Triple Crown.
The three Triple Crown races had been run for decades before the series received its name; the Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867, the Preakness in 1873, and the Kentucky Derby in 1875. The term was in use at least by 1923, although Daily Racing Form writer Charles Hatton is commonly credited with originating the term in 1930.
The order that the races are run in has varied. The Preakness has been run before the Kentucky Derby 11 times, most recently in 1931. On May 12, 1917, and May 13, 1922, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were run on the same day. From 1932 through 2019, the Kentucky Derby was run first, followed by the Preakness, and then the Belmont. Running the three races in a five-week span was instituted in 1969.
Scheduling has been affected by global events. During World War II, the 1945 Kentucky Derby was moved from May 5 to June 9, with the Preakness and Belmont following on June 16 and June 23, respectively. In 2020, the Triple Crown was altered from its usual sequence due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The adjusted schedule starts with the Belmont Stakes on June 20, at the shortened distance of 1 1⁄8 miles (9 furlongs). The Kentucky Derby is scheduled to follow on September 5, and finally the Preakness on October 3. It is the first time since 1931 for the races to be run in a different order, and the first time for the Belmont Stakes to be run as the opening leg of the Triple Crown.
Each Triple Crown race is open to both colts and fillies. Although fillies have won each of the individual Triple Crown races, none has won the Triple Crown itself. Despite attempts to develop a "Filly Triple Crown" or a "Triple Tiara" for fillies only, no set series of three races has consistently remained in the public eye, and at least four different types of races have been used. Two fillies won the series of the Kentucky Oaks, the Pimlico Oaks (now the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes), and the Coaching Club American Oaks, in 1949 and 1952, but the racing press did not designate either accomplishment as a "Triple Crown". In 1961, the New York Racing Association created a filly Triple Crown of in-state races only, but the races changed over the years. Eight fillies won the NYRA Triple Tiara between 1968 and 1993.
Gelded colts may run in any of the three races today, but they were prohibited from entering the Belmont between 1919 and 1957. Geldings have won each of the individual races, but like fillies, no gelding has ever won the Triple Crown. The closest was Funny Cide, who won the Derby and the Preakness in 2003.
Each of the races is held on a dirt track, rather than the turf commonly used for important races in Europe.
"The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports"
"The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans"
"The Test of the Champion"
|Date||First Saturday in May||Third Saturday in May||Third Saturday following the Preakness|
(first or second Saturday in June)
|Current Track||Churchill Downs||Pimlico Race Course||Belmont Park|
|Location||Louisville, Kentucky||Baltimore, Maryland||Elmont, New York|
|Distance||1 1⁄4 miles (10 furlongs; 2,000 m)||1 3⁄16 miles (9.5 furlongs; 1,900 m)||1 1⁄2 miles (12 furlongs; 2,400 m)|
|Background||Inaugurated in 1875, the race was originally 1 1⁄2 miles (2,400 m) until 1897 when it was shortened to its current distance. It is the only one of the three races to have been continuously run from its inception. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds (57 kg) and fillies 121 pounds (55 kg). The field has been limited to 20 horses since 1975.||Started in 1873 and continuously run since 1894, it is the shortest of the three races. Pimlico was the home of the race from 1873 to 1889 and again from 1908 until the present. The Preakness was not run from 1891 to 1893. Weights are the same as for the Derby. Field is limited to 14 horses.||Begun in 1867, it is the oldest of the three races, though not held in 1911 and 1912 due to anti-gambling legislation in New York. Race was held at various New York tracks until 1905 when Belmont Park became the permanent location. Distance varied from 1 5⁄8 to 1 1⁄8 miles (2,600 to 1,800 m) until set at 1 1⁄2 miles (2,400 m) in 1926, making it the longest of the three. Weight assignments are the same as the other two races. Field is limited to 16 horses.|
The Kentucky Derby Trophy
The Woodlawn Vase
The August Belmont Trophy
|1919||Sir Barton||Johnny Loftus||H. Guy Bedwell||J. K. L. Ross||John E. Madden|
|1930||Gallant Fox||Earl Sande||Jim Fitzsimmons||Belair Stud||Belair Stud|
|1935||Omaha||Willie "Smokey" Saunders||Jim Fitzsimmons||Belair Stud||Belair Stud|
|1937||War Admiral||Charles Kurtsinger||George Conway||Samuel D. Riddle||Samuel D. Riddle|
|1941||Whirlaway||Eddie Arcaro||Ben A. Jones||Calumet Farm||Calumet Farm|
|1943||Count Fleet||Johnny Longden||Don Cameron||Fannie Hertz||Fannie Hertz|
|1946||Assault||Warren Mehrtens||Max Hirsch||King Ranch||King Ranch|
|1948||Citation||Eddie Arcaro||Horace A. "Jimmy" Jones||Calumet Farm||Calumet Farm|
|1973||Secretariat||Ron Turcotte||Lucien Laurin||Meadow Stable||Meadow Stable|
|1977||Seattle Slew||Jean Cruguet||William H. Turner, Jr.||Mickey and Karen L. Taylor,
Tayhill Stable/Jim Hill, et al.
|Ben S. Castleman|
|1978||Affirmed||Steve Cauthen||Laz Barrera||Harbor View Farm||Harbor View Farm|
|2015||American Pharoah||Victor Espinoza||Bob Baffert||Ahmed Zayat||Ahmed Zayat|
|2018||Justify||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||China Horse Club
Head of Plains Partners
|John D. Gunther||and †|
|† During his 2018 bid for the Triple Crown, Justify used the colors of WinStar Farms (white, green and black star) for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The colors of China Horse Club (red, yellow stars and sleeves) were used in the Belmont Stakes.|
At completion of the 2016 season, the three Triple Crown races have attracted 4,224 entrants. Of these, 292 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), and 13 horses have won all three races. Pillory won both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 1922, a year when it was impossible to win the Triple Crown because the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes were run on the same day.
10 of the 13 winners have been "homebreds", owned at the time of their win by their breeders.
Jim Fitzsimmons and Bob Baffert are the only two trainers to have two horses win the Triple Crown, with Fitzsimmons training the sire/son combination of 1930 winner Gallant Fox and 1935 winner Omaha and Baffert training 2015 winner American Pharoah and 2018 winner Justify. The wins by Fitzsimmons were also the first time that an owner and the first time that a breeder, Belair Stud holding both duties, had a repeat win of the Triple Crown. Calumet Farm is the only other owner with two Triple Crown horses, 1941 winner Whirlaway and 1948 winner Citation. Eddie Arcaro is the only jockey to ride two horses to the Triple Crown, both for Calumet, Whirlaway and Citation. Those two horses' trainers, Ben Jones and Jimmy Jones, were father and son.
All 13 horses, and most owners, trainers, and jockeys were born in the United States. The exceptions were jockey Johnny Longden, born in England and raised in Canada; French-born jockey Jean Cruguet; trainer Laz Barrera, from Cuba; and jockey Victor Espinoza, from Mexico. Secretariat's trainer, Lucien Laurin and jockey, Ron Turcotte were both Canadians. Owner Fannie Hertz was married to John D. Hertz, who was born in Slovakia; owner Ahmed Zayat was born in Egypt. Jockey Willie Saunders is considered a Canadian jockey because he grew up and established his career there, but was born in Montana. The horse Sir Barton was foaled in the United States but had a Canadian owner, J. K. L. Ross, at the time of his Triple Crown win, while Justify's owners were from both the United States and China.
Other notable achievements
Only one horse, Alydar, has placed (finished second) in all three races. He was defeated by Affirmed in all three races in 1978 by a combined margin of two lengths. His trainer John Veitch is the only trainer to have done this with one horse. In 1995, D. Wayne Lukas became the first and only major figure (owner, jockey, or trainer) to win all three Triple Crown races with different horses, Thunder Gulch in the Derby and Belmont, Timber Country in the Preakness. Lukas also is the only trainer to have won six straight Triple Crown races, adding his 1995 wins, having won the 1994 Preakness and Belmont with Tabasco Cat and the 1996 Derby with Grindstone.
Like Veitch, only with two different horses, Bob Baffert also had second-place finishes in all three legs of the Triple Crown, both owned by Ahmed Zayat: in 2012, Bodemeister finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness stakes to I'll Have Another, then Paynter was entered and finished second to Union Rags. Baffert and Zayat teamed up again for the 2015 Triple Crown victory of American Pharoah.
Whirlaway, in addition to winning the 1941 Triple Crown, also won the Travers Stakes that year, which is sometimes called the fourth leg of the Triple Crown. Whirlaway became the first and only horse to date to accomplish that feat.
American Pharoah, in addition to winning the 2015 Triple Crown, also won the Breeders' Cup Classic that year. As the Breeders' Cup was not established until 1984, American Pharoah was the first (and currently only) horse to sweep all four races, a feat that came to be known as the Grand Slam.
Gaps between wins
After the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, in 1919, there was not another winner until Gallant Fox in 1930, a gap of 11 years. Between 1930 and 1948, seven horses won the Triple Crown, with five years being the longest gap between winners. However, following the 1948 win of Citation, there was a considerable gap of 25 years before Secretariat ended the drought of Triple Crown champions in 1973. Between 1973 and 1978, there were three Triple Crown winners.
After Affirmed's Triple Crown in 1978, the longest drought in Triple Crown history began in 1979 with Spectacular Bid's failed Triple Crown attempt at the Belmont Stakes, and lasted until American Pharoah won in 2015. Between 1979 and 2014 thirteen horses won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but either failed to win the Belmont Stakes or could not start in the race. Of those, Real Quiet came the closest to winning the Triple Crown, losing the Belmont Stakes by a nose in 1998. Spectacular Bid finished 3rd in 1979. Pleasant Colony finished 3rd in 1981. Alysheba finished 4th in 1987. Sunday Silence finished 2nd in 1989. Real Quiet finished 2nd in 1998. Charismatic finished 3rd in 1999. War Emblem finished 8th in 2002. Funny Cide finished 3rd in 2003. Smarty Jones finished 2nd in 2004. Big Brown did not finish in 2008. I'll Have Another did not start (injury) 2012. California Chrome finished 4th in 2014.
In the 1979-2015 period, horses who contested all three races, losing the Kentucky Derby but winning the Preakness and the Belmont were Risen Star in 1988, Hansel in 1991, Tabasco Cat in 1994, Point Given in 2001, and Afleet Alex in 2005. In 1972, Riva Ridge and 1984, Swale and in 1995, Thunder Gulch ran all three races, winning the Derby and the Belmont, but not the Preakness.
The 37-year gap between the Triple Crown wins of Affirmed and American Pharoah drew criticism of the system. As far back as 1986, reporters noted that horses who were fresh for the Belmont had an advantage. In 2003, Gary Stevens stated in an interview with Charlie Rose that he did not believe there would be another Triple Crown winner because of the tendency for owners to put fresh horses in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn was particularly critical of the Triple Crown system in post-Belmont remarks in 2014; he considered the system to be unfair, arguing that there would never be another Triple Crown winner in his lifetime unless only horses that competed in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness competed at the Belmont. By 2014, six of the previous eight Belmont winners had not competed in either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Additionally, from 2006 to 2014, the Belmont winner was a horse who had not competed in the Preakness.
Since all three events were inaugurated, through the 2019 races[update], 23 horses have won the Derby and Preakness but not the Belmont:
- 1932: Burgoo King did not enter the Belmont due to lameness.:78, 182
- 1936: Bold Venture did not enter the Belmont due to lameness.:78, 182
- 1944: Pensive was the first horse to contest but lose the Belmont after winning the first two legs. He placed second to Bounding Home,:78 who had neither run in the Derby nor the Preakness.
- 1958: Tim Tam, defeated by six lengths by Cavan, who had neither contested the Derby nor Preakness.
- 1961: Carry Back, "sore" after the race, was seventh of nine entries, 14 1⁄2 lengths behind the winner, a longshot named Sherluck.
- 1964: Northern Dancer, defeated by Quadrangle.
- 1966: Kauai King, defeated by Amberoid.
- 1968: Forward Pass, defeated by Stage Door Johnny by 1 1⁄4 lengths.
- 1969: Majestic Prince, second by 5 1⁄2 lengths to Arts and Letters. Loss attributed to fatigue and lameness.
- 1971: Cañonero II, fourth in the Belmont to 34–1 longshot Pass Catcher, the loss attributed to a hoof problem.
- 1979: Spectacular Bid, third in Belmont, was alleged to have stepped on a safety pin the morning of the race, though another theory blamed rider error by an inexperienced young jockey moving him too soon. He finished 3 1⁄4 lengths behind Coastal and a neck behind the second-place horse, Golden Act.
- 1981: Pleasant Colony, third in Belmont, 1 1⁄2 lengths behind Summing and the second-place horse, Highland Blade.
- 1987: Alysheba finished fourth in Belmont behind Bet Twice, Cryptoclearance, and Gulch.
- 1989: Sunday Silence, second in Belmont, eight lengths behind Easy Goer.
- 1997: Silver Charm, second in Belmont, 3⁄4 length behind Touch Gold.
- 1998: Real Quiet, second in Belmont after a photo finish, a nose behind Victory Gallop.
- 1999: Charismatic, third in Belmont, 1 1⁄2 lengths behind Lemon Drop Kid and second-place Vision and Verse. Charismatic was pulled up soon after the finish, vanned off with a bone fracture. He survived and was retired to stud.
- 2002: War Emblem stumbled at gate in Belmont, finished eighth out of 11. Winner Sarava scored upset at record odds of 70–1.
- 2003: Funny Cide, third in Belmont, five lengths behind Empire Maker, and 4 1⁄4 lengths behind second-place horse, Ten Most Wanted.
- 2004: Smarty Jones, second in Belmont, one length behind Birdstone.
- 2008: Big Brown was pulled up in the home stretch of the Belmont, eased to a last-place finish. Winner was Da' Tara. A hoof problem had limited Big Brown's training, and may have been a factor in his defeat.
- 2012: I'll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont the day before the race due to a tendon injury.
- 2014: California Chrome finished in a dead heat for 4th in the Belmont after being stepped on by another horse leaving the gate and running the race with an injury to his heel and a scrape on his tendon.
Sponsorship and broadcasting
Originally, the three races largely organized their own nominations procedure, marketing and television broadcast rights. In 1985, Triple Crown Productions was created when the owner of Spend a Buck chose not to run in the other two Triple Crown races because of a financial incentive offered to any Kentucky Derby winner who could win a set of competing races in New Jersey. The organizers of the three races realized that they needed to work together.
Efforts to unify the sponsorship and marketing of all three Triple Crown races began in 1987 when ABC Sports negotiated a deal with Chrysler to pay $5 million to any horse that swept all three races, and $1 million each year there was no Triple Crown sweep to the horse with the highest combined Triple Crown finish. This sponsorship lasted until 1993. The end of the $1 million participation bonus was linked to the breakdown of Prairie Bayou at the Belmont Stakes that year and the uncomfortable situation that arose when the Kentucky Derby winner, Sea Hero, was given the bonus following a seventh-place finish.
In 1995, Visa USA took over the sponsorship with a 10-year contract, naming the series the Visa Triple Crown and offering only the $5 million bonus to a horse that could sweep the Triple Crown. Along with sponsorship by VISA, NBC Sports paid $51.5 million for broadcast rights to all three races, with the revenue split giving 50% of the total to Churchill Downs and 25% each to Pimlico and to the New York Racing Association (NYRA).
The Visa deal—and the cooperative effort—ended after 2005. The NYRA felt that they did not get a fair share of the revenue, particularly when the Belmont had the highest ratings of all three races in the years where a Triple Crown was on the line. From 2001 through 2013, average viewership for the Belmont was 7 million when the Triple Crown was not at stake, whereas viewership averaged 13 million when it was. With the contract term ending, the NYRA went to ESPN on ABC for the 2006 Belmont, while the broadcasts of the Derby and Preakness remained with NBC. Visa chose to remain as a sponsor of only Kentucky Derby for the next five years. As a result of the divided broadcast, Triple Crown Productions was unable to obtain a new sponsor.
|1987–1993||Chrysler Corporation||$1 million (best overall record)|
$5 million (three wins)
|1995–2005||Visa USA||$5 million (three wins)|
|2006–present||Triple Crown Productions||None|
In February 2011, ABC/ESPN dropped out of the negotiations to renew broadcast rights to the Belmont Stakes. NBC obtained the contract through 2015, once again uniting all three races on the same network. In 2014, NBC extended their contract for the Kentucky Derby through 2025. As of August 2015[update], NBC obtained a broadcast contract for the Belmont through 2020 and the Preakness through 2022.
Individual race winners
|Denotes winners of the Triple Crown|
|*||Denotes winners of the Derby and Preakness but not the Belmont|
|#||Denotes other winners of any other combination of 2 out of the 3 Triple Crown races|
- These were 2002 for War Emblem, 2003 for Funny Cide and 2004 for Smarty Jones.
- The 1890 Preakness Stakes was held at Morris Park Racecourse in The Bronx, New York.
- From 1894 to 1908, the Preakness Stakes were held at Gravesend Race Track on Coney Island, New York.
- In 1917 and 1922, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes were held on the same day.
- The 1918 Preakness Stakes was held in two divisions due to a large field. War Cloud won one and Jack Hare, Jr. the other.
- Due to reconstruction at Belmont Park, the Belmont Stakes were held at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York from 1963 to 1967.
- Dancer's Image was disqualified as the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby due to a post-race failed drug test.
- I'll Have Another was scratched the afternoon prior to the Belmont due to tendonitis and was unable to attempt to win the race.
- Maximum Security was disqualified as the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby after he was judged to have interfered with another horse.
- [Fy] Denotes a filly. Fillies won the Kentucky Derby in 1915, 1980, and 1988, Preakness Stakes in 1903, 1906, 1915, 1924, and 2009, and Belmont Stakes in 1867, 1905, and 2007.
- RNR Race not run. The Belmont was not run in 1911 and 1912 due to anti-betting legislation passed in New York State. The Preakness did not run 1891–1893.
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