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Personalities of the 13 Triple Crown Winners

Gallant Fox, the second American Triple Crown winner. Photo from the Keeneland Library Cook Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Like humans, horses have their own distinct personalities. The thirteen Triple Crown winners are a diverse group of horses. Some were considered mean, some are fondly remembered for being loving, and others were curious beings. I have compiled brief descriptions of each of the thirteen Triple Crown winners' personalities for you all below.

Sir Barton (1919): The son of Sir Barton’s owner described Sir Barton as an evil horse who despised all human beings aside from his groom. He was also described as having no interest in other horses. Margaret Phipps Leonard did not think the horse was evil, but rather played roughly. Jennifer Kelly, author of Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown, wrote an entire blog post on Sir Barton’s personality for Champions of the Track. Gallant Fox (1930): Gallant Fox was extremely curious. He would sometimes pause on his walk to the track just to look around. He was left in the gate in second start of his career because he was distracted by an airplane passing by. Gallant Fox hated working out unless it was in company. Having another horse to catch kept him interested in his work, so his workouts were conducted like a relay race. He was simply a friendly horse who was interested in the world around him.

Omaha (1935):

Unlike his sire Gallant Fox, Omaha is described as being a nasty individual during his racing career. However, he was described as “kindly” during his (unsuccessful) stud career. Late in his life, Omaha was regularly taken to Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha, Nebraska where children would be allowed to sit on his back for a picture with him.

War Admiral (1937): War Admiral was known to be high strung on race days and would act up just before the start of a race. His antics were so bad that he delayed the start of the Belmont Stakes by eight minutes and even tore a chunk out of his right forefoot when he finally did take off. However, he was said to be much more relaxed and when back at the barn. Like most racehorses, he was very sweet towards his groom.

Whirlaway (1941): Ben A. Jones famously called Whirlaway “the dumbest horse I’ve ever trained” because of his tendency to bear out (veer towards the outside rail) during his races. He was a horse that just couldn’t quite be figured out. Sometimes he would be nervous and antsy. Other times, he would be so relaxed that you could play a game of cards in his stall and he’d never even know you were there. He would like some jockeys and dislike others. The horse was so unpredictable that Ben A. Jones would visit the barn at odd hours of the night to check on his steed.

[Video: A short video that describes some of Whirlaway's quirks.]

Count Fleet (1943): Count Fleet was a very hard horse to work with. He was so difficult and unruly that his owners tried to sell him many times. He could not be restrained while running and was extremely rambunctious. He mellowed out as a stallion, but was still unsociable and demanded to be let into the barn at sunset regardless of the weather or what everyone else was doing.

Assault (1946):

Assault, though a delicate horse, was demanding. He would charge his grooms if they were even a moment late to feed him. He was also very attentive towards his exercise riders and would throw them off if they seemed to not be paying attention so he could gallop around the track without them.

Citation (1948): Citation was said to have the perfect temperament for racing. He was a tough horse with an endless appetite for running. His connections adored, respected, and were confident in Citation’s sheer will to win.

Secretariat (1973): Run Turcotte described riding Secretariat by saying, “And he never had a mean hair on him, never spooked from anything with me”. Once Secretariat did throw Turcotte and instead of running off, he simply sat there and stared at him instead. When Secretariat was beaten, he’d stand in the corner of his stall and sulk for a very long time. Secretariat was known to set a record in any race following a defeat. This was said to be because Secretariat was mad that he was beaten and wanted revenge. He was a clown and loved to play around, but he was kind.

[Video: Footage of Secretariat while he was nearing the end of his life]

Seattle Slew (1977): Many considered Seattle Slew to be the most intelligent horse they had ever been around. Interacting with him was like interacting with a human being. He was confident in himself and his ability and displayed that in the post parade, giving a sort of “war dance”. Being tacked up got him excited. He loved the winter and was especially kind to and patient with children.

Affirmed (1978): Affirmed was as tough as nails and extremely determined on the racetrack. He was always a very willing horse and was very affectionate toward the people he knew. To strangers he was a gentleman. Affirmed was very smart and kind.

American Pharoah (2015): American Pharoah is known as an extremely kind and loving horse. He had a tendency to get nervous from the sounds made by large crowds and had to wear cotton balls as ear plugs for this reason. He was an alpha male when in groups as a yearling. Overall, he is an intelligent and kind being who typically has no problems with his adoring fans loving on him.

Justify (2018): Justify is standoffish type of horse. He is very smart, but not a cuddly type of animal. He is an impatient and imposing individual. Justify will allow you in his space, but only for a short amount of time before he is fed-up and ready to bite. He has a big personality to match his big body.


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Secretariat is the GOAT. His Triple Crown track times remain unbroken.

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