The next four Triple Crown winners all achieved their success in the 1940s — amazing to have so many winners so close together in time. Who knew in 1948 that it would be 25 years before there was another!
Whirlaway — 1941
To win the Kentucky Derby, trainer Ben Jones had to correct Whirlaway’s habit of pulling out toward the middle (or even the far side) of the track during the race — losing ground that cost him races. To fix this, Jones fitted the colt with a full-cup blinker over his right eye. In Whirlaway’s final work before the Derby, he cut a small hole in the blinker so that the horse had a tiny field of vision. Then right before the Derby, Jones cut away the left side blinker and then walked Whirlaway around the track at the rail.
It worked: Whirlaway set a record in the Derby that stood until Secretariat broke it in 1973.
Count Fleet — 1943
This amazing racehorse had a slow start. No one wanted to buy him as a yearling because he was so difficult to handle and most of his two year old season was unremarkable. He was almost sold for a mere $4500 (a low price for the son of a Derby winner even then). Just as well his owners held onto him as he was undefeated as a three year old.
He won the Wood Memorial as his Derby prep race. Then won the Derby by three lengths. He came back and won the Preakness by eight lengths, won the Wood Memorial before the Belmont and then crossed the finish line in the Belmont 25 lengths ahead of the next horse!
The 1943 Kentucky Derby was dubbed the “Street Car Derby” because of the severe travel restrictions that were imposed during the second world war. The head of Churchill Downs limited attendance to Louisville area residents. Taxis were forbidden to be within a mile of the track, and private vehicles were restricted as well. Instead, racing enthusiasts arrived by street car!
Assault — 1946
Assault is a horse that probably never should have been a champion. As a weanling, Assault stepped on a surveyor’s stake, driving it through his front right hoof. The hoof was permanently damaged and Assault developed a limp. This injury provided the source of his future nickname, “The Club Footed Comet” but did not stop him from winning (there was no sign of the limp when he galloped).
Assault won the Kentucky Derby by eight lengths and was the favorite for the Preakness. The second leg of the Triple Crown did not go as smoothly for him; caught in traffic early on in the race, jockey Warren Mehrtens made his bid early and Assault tired in the stretch and was almost caught by Lord Boswell.
Horse and jockey redeemed themselves at the Belmont. After stumbling at the start and then trailing the field for most of the race, Assault made a huge run in the stretch and won by three lengths.
Assault was found to be sterile when he was retired to stud (although he did manage to impregnate a few Quarter horse mares, with whom he shared a pasture). He was raced until he was seven and then retired to King Ranch.
Citation — 1948
Jockey Eddie Arcarro says that Citation was the best horse he ever rode. That’s quite some praise coming from a him!
Citation was so successful a racehorse coming into the Derby that only four stables sent out horses to race against him and Churchill Downs accepted only win bets. Citation didn’t disappoint and won by three and a half lengths.
Citation lead wire to wire in the Preakness Stakes, facing only three other horses.
While some questioned his stamina over the mile and a half Belmont, his eight length win put all doubts to rest.
Citation continued racing until he was six and was the first horse to win a million dollars.