Horse racing’s Triple Crown — awarded to the horse that wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes — hasn’t been achieved since Affirmed won it in 1979. When he won it, he was the third horse to do so in the 1970s, making it seem almost easy. Certainly, with Secretariat winning the Belmont by an unbelievable 31 lengths in ’73, Seattle Slew winning in ’77 and then Affirmed the next year, no one would have thought that we would 34 years (so far) without another winner. Maybe I’ll Have Another will rise to the challenge next week!
It’s easy to forget that before Secretariat there was a 25 year gap from when Citation had won the Triple Crown in 1948. All told, since 1919 there have been only 11 Triple Crown Winners.
Here’s a look at the Triple Crown winners from the beginning. Some of the old footage is really fantastic. I love the fact that in early races the horses had no starting gate . . . and that some of the fields were very, very small.
Here are the first four:
Sir Barton – 1919
Technically when Sir Barton won the three races, there was no such thing as the Triple Crown in America (the English Triple Crown, the St. Leger, the Epson Derby and the 2,000 Guinea Stakes race had been recognized since 1854. The American Triple Crown was “coined” by turf reporter Charles Hatton in the 1930s, making Sir Barton’s win a retrospective victory.
Sir Barton was an unlikely winner. He had not yet broken his maiden (he lost all six races as a two year old) and was sent to the race to provide early speed (he was a “rabbit”) so that his owner’s other horse, Billy Kelly. Instead, he won the Derby by five lengths.
What’s amazing is that the Preakness was held just four days after the Kentucky Derby — and he won that one by five lengths. He then ran in the Withers Stakes just 10 days later, winning handily. The Belmont was held on June 11th and Sir Barton handily won that too beating the two other horses that dared to challenge him. In just 32 days he won the top three races and the Withers. It’s hard to imagine a horse today racing so often over such a short period of time.
Gallant Fox – 1930
When Gallant Fox was the first horse who was described as winning the Triple Crown by sports writers of the time. Bred by William Woodward’s Belair Stud, he was nicknamed “The Fox of Belair.”
Back when he ran, the Preakness was the first of the races. He won by three-quarters of a length.
The Kentucky Derby was run two weeks later and Gallant Fox won by two lengths. Three weeks later he won the Belmont wire to wire.
Omaha – 1935
Omaha was sired by Gallant Fox creating the first (and only) Triple Crown dynasty in horse racing. This 17 hand colt lived up to the high expectations of him.
He won the Kentucky Derby by a length and a half. The Preakness was a week later and he won that by six lengths.
Before the Belmont Stakes, he ran in the Withers and lost by a length and a half, leaving some doubt about his ability to win the Triple Crown. But, he ran a great race, rallying down the home stretch to catch Firethorn and win the Triple Crown.
Omaha was the only Triple Crown to race in England — but he only raced four times before injury forced his retirement.
Omaha was buried near his namesake city on the site of the old Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack site. However, there’s a bit of a mystery about exactly where his remains lie. The track closed some years ago and is now the location of college soccer fields. No sign of the great horses remains have been found although he was thought to have been buried in the Circle of Champions.
War Admiral – 1937
War Admiral was the best known son of Man O’War. Unlike his famous sire, “The Might Atom” or “The Admiral” was only 15.2″.
War Admiral won his Derby prep race — just four days before the Derby.
War Admiral hated the starting gate. He and three other horses delayed the start of the Kentucky Derby for 8 minutes (check out how the starting gate worked back then!) he won the race by a length and a half.
The Preakness was run a week later. Once again War Admiral delayed the start (this time by three minutes) and finished first by a head under a hand ride.
Before the Belmont he delayed the start again, this time by 7 minutes. Although he stumbled and hurt himself coming out of the gate, he finished four lengths ahead, again on a hand ride.
Stay tuned – more Triple Crown winners tomorrow!