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the triple crown

an overview

The most coveted accomplishment in American horse racing is winning the Triple Crown. It takes a very special horse to win the Triple Crown, so special that only thirteen horses have managed to do so in the nearly 150 years that have passed since the inauguration of the Kentucky Derby. Winning this grueling, three-race series is considered to be one of the most difficult accomplishments in all sports. The series is only open to three-year-old horses, meaning a horse only has one chance to win the Triple Crown. There is no trying again next year. 

The three-race series begins with the Kentucky Derby. This race draws a large field size of 20 horses, so the winning horse must have the perfect trip or the ability to overcome a bad one. The Kentucky Derby winner must then have the tenacity to travel, have a quick turnaround time between races, and face fresh horses that did not race in the Kentucky Derby to win the Preakness Stakes just two weeks later. Finally, they must have the grit and stamina necessary to win the Belmont Stakes, which is run at a strenuous distance of 1.5 miles, just three weeks after the Preakness while again facing fresh horses. 

A horse must race at three different racetracks at three different distances while facing fresher horses - all in a span of just five weeks - in order to become a Triple Crown winner. It requires a unique blend of talent, speed, stamina, guts, determination, and an immense amount of luck for this incredible, rare feat to be accomplished.


Triple Crown winners by year


Sir Barton

Sir Barton was still a maiden (meaning he had never won a race) when he stepped hoof onto Churchill Down's track for the Kentucky Derby. He went wire-to-wire to win the race by five lengths. He captured the Preakness Stakes just four days later, then the Withers Stakes, and finally the Belmont Stakes to become America's first Triple Crown winner.


gallant fox

The Preakness Stakes was the first of the three Triple Crown races when Gallant Fox, often called "The Fox of Belair", cemented his spot in horse racing history. He captured the Preakness by 3/4 of a length, then the Kentucky Derby two weeks later by two lengths, and the Belmont Stakes three weeks after that.



Omaha, sired by Gallant Fox, easily won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He lost the Withers Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths fifteen days after the Preakness but turned the tables on Rosemont, the horse who beat him, in the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown. He is the first and only Triple Crown winner that was sired by another Triple Crown winner. 


war admiral

War Admiral was not like his sire Man o' War in size but certainly inherited some of his talent. War Admiral won the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths, the Preakness Stakes by a head, and the Belmont Stakes by three lengths despite delaying the start in all three races by several minutes. His winning time in the Belmont broke his sire's track record by 1/5 seconds.



Whirlaway was known for his antics on the track; his trainer Ben A. Jones famously called him "the dumbest horse I've ever trained". Whirlaway overcame his bad habits to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in dominant fashion. Whirlaway is the only Triple Crown winner to also win the coveted Travers Stakes. 


count fleet

Count Fleet was undefeated during his three-year-old season in 1943 despite having an unruly temperament and unattractive conformation. He won the Kentucky Derby by 3 lengths and the Preakness Stakes by 8 lengths. He also won the Withers Stakes before powering home to a stunning, 25 length victory in the Belmont Stakes. 



Assault stepped on a surveyor's stake as a yearling which left him with a permanently deformed hoof and a limp. Luckily, "the club-footed comet" showed no signs of his deformity while at a gallop and was able to capture all three Triple Crown races. He is the only Texas-bred in this elite group of horses. 



Citation raced for the same trainer and owner of the first Triple Crown winner of the 1940s, Whirlaway. Citation was a powerhouse on the racetrack and won all three Triple Crown races with ease, even securing a win in the Jersey Stakes before running in the Belmont Stakes. He is regarded as one of the greatest racehorses of all time. 



Secretariat's Triple Crown triumph broke a 25-year Triple Crown drought. He set stakes records in all three Triple Crown races that have yet to be broken five decades later. His 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes is regarded as one of the most dominant performances of all time. 



Seattle Slew was purchased for just $17,500 as a yearling, which ultimately proved to be an incredible bargain for his owners. He won the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths, the Preakness Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths, and the Belmont Stakes by 4 lengths. He ended the series having won nine races from nine career starts, making him the first undefeated horse to win the Triple Crown.



Affirmed won the Triple Crown just one year after Seattle Slew, but a fierce rivalry with Alydar kept things exciting. Alydar decreased Affirmed's winning margin in every race; Affirmed prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths in the Kentucky Derby, by a neck in the Preakness Stakes, and by a nose in the Belmont Stakes.


american pharoah

By 2015 there hadn't been a Triple Crown winner in 37 years and many people believed it would never be won again. American Pharoah was "finally the one" to break the drought; he won the Kentucky Derby by 1 length, the Preakness Stakes by 7 lengths, and the Belmont Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths.



Justify's Triple Crown was unique for multiple reasons; he was the first horse in 136 years to win the Kentucky Derby after not racing as a two-year-old, which also made him the only Triple Crown winner to do so. He also joined Seattle Slew as the only two horses to win the Triple Crown while undefeated.

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