The Triple Crown of thoroughbred horseracing includes the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Originally, owners began to send their colts to run in these races simply because they offered the biggest purses. There was no concept of a Triple Crown. Indeed, when Sir Barton won all three in 1919, he was not known as the “Triple Crown Winner.” That designation gained traction in 1930 when Gallant Fox won all three. It is believed that a sports writer, Charles Hatton, popularized the term.
Winning the TC is quite a feat. The three races are run over a five week period, in different cities, and at different distances. The TC winner must have the speed to win the Preakness, which is only 1 3/16 miles and the stamina to win the Belmont, which, at 1 ½ miles, is one of the longest races anywhere. In addition, the horse must beat competitors that, having bypassed one or both of the other races, are fresher.
At long last, this past Saturday, June 6, American horseracing got its twelfth Triple Crown Winner as American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes. AP’s victory ended the longest drought between TC winners – 37 years. The TC winners, whose names are very familiar to horseracing fans and to many general sports fans as well, are as follows:
Sir Barton – 1919
Gallant Fox – 1930
Omaha – 1935
War Admiral – 1937
Whirlaway – 1941
Count Fleet – 1943
Assault – 1946
Citation – 1948
Secretariat – 1973
Seattle Slew – 1977
Affirmed – 1978
American Pharoah – 2015
The current order of the three races was not fixed until 1932. Prior to then, the Preakness was sometimes run before the Derby. On a couple of occasions the Derby and the Preakness were run on the same day. No TC winner those years!
Below please find a brief profile of each of the races.
Kentucky Derby (aka “The Run for the Roses”)
- The Derby, as it is frequently called, was first run in 1875. The winner was a colt named Aristedes.
- It is run on the first Saturday in May.
- The driving force behind establishing the race was Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark. History buffs will recognize the name. Clark was the grandson of William Clark who, along with Meriwether Lewis, led the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition to Oregon in 1804-06. Clark got the idea for the race during a trip to Europe when he observed The Derby in England and the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp.
- Churchill Downs derived its name from John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land for the racetrack.
- Originally, the distance was 1 ½ miles, but it has been run at its current 1 ¼ miles since 1896.
a. Drinking a mint julep, which is an iced drink consisting of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup. One may drink it either in an ice-frosted julep cup or a souvenir cup.
b. A popular food is “burgoo,” which is a thick stew consisting of chicken, pork and vegetables. I hope it tastes better than it sounds.
c. Women wear lavish outfits accessorized by outlandish hats.
d. The band plays “My Old Kentucky Home” during the post parade.
e. The vast infield is utilized primarily for partying as not much of the actual race can be seen from it.
f. The stakes record is held by Secretariat at 1:59.40.
g. The most wins by a jockey is five by Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hardtack.
The Preakness Stakes
- The race was named after a horse who won the featured stakes race on the day the track at Pimlico opened.
- The race is run on the third Saturday in May.
- Attendance ranks second behind the Derby and ahead of the Belmont Stakes.
- The race is limited to 14 horses, probably due to space limitations.
a. The band plays “Maryland, My Maryland” during the post parade.
b. Prior to 1940, the winner received a Woodlawn Vase. Subsequently, the winner has been bedecked with black-eyed Susans, the Maryland State Flower.
c. The official cocktail is the “Black-eyed Susan,” which consists of vodka, St. Germain liqueur and pineapple, orange and lime juices.
d. The infield is for partying, not necessarily viewing the race. The gathering there is called the InfieldFest.
e. The record of 1:53 is held by Secretariat.
f. Eddie Arcaro has won the most times – six.
The Belmont Stakes (aka “The Test of the Champion”)
- It is the oldest of the TC races, dating to 1868.
- It is the longest of the races – 1 ½ miles.
- It is held five weeks after the Derby and three weeks after the Preakness.
- It is named for August Belmont, Sr., who financed the first race in 1866.
- The original location was Jerome Park Racetrack in The Bronx, NY. The race was moved to Belmont Park in 1905.
- The winner receives the prestigious August Belmont Trophy.
- Traditions –
a. The traditional post parade song was “Sidewalks of NY” until 1996. Now, it is “The Theme from New York, New York.”
b. The official drink has also changed over the years, from the “White Carnation” to the “Belmont Breeze” to the “Belmont Jewel.”
c. The winner is draped with a blanket of white carnations.
d. The stakes record is held by (who else?) Secretariat, who won in 2:24 by an astounding 31 lengths.
e. The jockeys with the most wins are Eddie Arcaro and Jim McLaughlin with six each.
So, which horse was the best of the best? Obviously, it is impossible to compare the relative merits of the twelve TC winners as they competed in different eras. That said, I believe it is impossible to ignore the accomplishments of Secretariat who thoroughly dominated his rivals (winning by 31 lengths?! Really?!) and holds the stakes record at all three tracks. I would rate him as the best, although I welcome other opinions.