I can clearly remember watching the last three Triple Crown successes — Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. I watched all three of those races as a teenager, sitting in my grandparents’ living room and cheering them on at the top of my lungs. After such a rush of talent and luck, winning the Triple Crown didn’t seem all that hard!
Fast forward to 2015 and it’s become a far more elusive honor. Thirteen horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only to fall short. Real Quiet came the closest to winning the Belmont, coming up short only by a nose in 1998.
There are many reasons cited for the ongoing drought. Some people say the races are too close together to allow the horses to recover (although in early years top horses raced far more often and still pulled it off).
I think it’s come about gradually, with a change in breeding strategies. As a nation, the US breeds sprinters, not distance runners. The Belmont Stakes is the last Grade 1 race to top out a mile and a half! People now want horses that mature quickly and win sooner, which has translated to winning at shorter distances.
More horses now run in the series, too. When Secretariat ran in the Kentucky Derby, he beat 12 other horses. More recently, the fields have been pushing 20, making it more of a demolition derby than a horse race. And the number of horses competing in the series has also nearly doubled. In 1973, only 17 horses competed in the three races. Last year 30 horses ran in at least one race.
So that brings us to American Pharaoh. He’s looking fit and energetic (this photo by Sarah K. Andrew). Does he have it in him to pull of the feat?
He drew a good post position — #5 — and there are only eight horses in the field. He will be facing stiff competition, especially from Materiality and Frosted, who each skipped the Preakness. On the plus side, only 22 horses competed in the series this year, a point in AP’s favor.
What do you think will happen tomorrow? I know I’m rooting for another Triple Crown win.