It’s Post Time with Joe Kristufek: Lure of the Triple Crown


One down, two to go.

California Chrome’s resounding victory as the Kentucky Derby favorite has the everyday person buzzing about horse racing and asking questions.

New Fan: “Is this the year a horse captures the elusive Triple Crown and what is the Triple Crown, anyway?”

Once a horse wins the Kentucky Derby their quest then becomes the Holy Grail of Thoroughbred racing.  

The Triple Crown is a series of three races for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds run every spring.  

1. Kentucky Derby

When: First Saturday in May

Where: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky

Distance: 1 1/4 miles on dirt

Need to know: This is the first time any of the horses will have run this far and in front of 150,000+ fans, they’ll need to show talent, stamina and composure in order to race well. 

2. Preakness Stakes 

When: Two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, the third Saturday in May

Where: Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland

Distance: 1 3/16 miles on dirt

Need to know: Distance is slightly shorter than that of the Derby. It is the shortest of the three Triple Crown races.

3. Belmont Stakes

When: In June, three weeks after the Preakness

Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, New York

Distance: 1 1/2 miles on dirt

Need to know: This is likely the first and only time any of these horses will run the 12 furlong distance, particularly on a dirt track. 

New Fan: “So the Triple Crown challenges the potential winner to run nearly four miles in five weeks at three different venues?

Yes, and it’s no wonder we haven't had a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. It's not easy!

Only 11 horses can claim the title of Triple Crown winner, but every year on the first Saturday in May, hope springs eternal that a new horse racing legend will emerge.

Half of the last 16 Kentucky Derby winners (Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and I'll Have Another) took down the Preakness too, only to be denied their place in history in the final leg – the Belmont Stakes.

A stumble at the start cost War Emblem all chance. Real Quiet and Smarty Jones suffered heartbreaking defeats, Charismatic an emotional one. Big Brown failed to make the course. I'll Have Another failed to make the race.

I'll never forget touching down in New York two years ago on the Thursday morning before Belmont. My cell phone blew up. I'll Have Another was injured and would be unable to take a crack at immortality. What a downer.

Since 1978 when Affirmed etched his name in history, horse racing has been starving for a Triple Crown winner.

As we potentially sit on the doorstep of yet another possible Triple Crown voyage, let’s meet and rank those whose names will forever be etched in Thoroughbred racing history.

They all have a story to tell.

11. Sir Barton (1919)

Winless from six starts at age two, Sir Barton was still a maiden when he entered the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. He wired the Derby field and won the Preakness just four days later. He also captured the Withers stakes prior to completing his run to glory in the Belmont. Following his racing career, Sir Barton served as a U.S. Calvary remount stallion.

10. Omaha (1935)

He won only one of nine starts at age two, and suffered a loss in the Withers between his Preakness and Belmont tallies. He went lame later in the year, and was shipped to England for his 4-year-old campaign, where he won two of four starts before returning the States for a mediocre stud career.

9. Gallant Fox (1930)

He won the first American Classic ever contested with an automatic starting gate. The Preakness was the first leg that year, and he won it as the even-money favorite. He returned to win the Derby eight days later, and defeated only three rivals to complete his Triple Crown in the Belmont. He is the only Triple Crown winner to ever sire another Triple Crown winner (Omaha in 1935).

8. Assault (1946)

Known as “the cripple”, Assault stepped on a surveyor’s stake before even making it to the racetrack, and his connections thought he would never be fit to compete. He displayed an odd limp when he walked, but at full speed, the foot never bothered him. He threw in a clunker from time to time, but continued to win important races well into his 4-year-old season.

7. Count Fleet (1943)

Hailed as the “second coming of Man o’ War”, Count Fleet won 10 of 15 starts as a 2-year-old, and was a perfect from six starts during his sophomore season. He faced only two rivals in the Belmont, and drew off to win by 25 lengths. He suffered a career ending injury during the romp, and would never race again.

6. War Admiral (1937)

A notoriously bad gate horse, this son of the legendary Man O’War delayed the start of the Belmont Stakes for eight minutes. At one point, he dragged the assistant starters through the gate, and he was eventually allowed to start from an outside spot. He nearly went down at the break, but recovered, and equaled the North American record for 1 ½ miles (2:28 3/5). He tore nearly a square inch off his hoof, and returned to the winner’s circle with blood gushing from the area. After winning 16 of 17 starts, he lost the world famous match race to the upstart Seabiscuit.

5. Whirlaway (1941)

Probably the kookiest of all Triple Crown winners, Whirlaway won his debut as a 2-year-old while riding the outside rail all the way around the track. Probably the most well-known deep closer in the history of the sport, he was also one of the most unpredictable. Hall of Fame rider Eddie Arcaro, one of the toughest jockeys in the history of the game, admitted to being scared when riding the highly erratic colt. 

4. Affirmed (1978)

He and Alydar provided one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport. Throughout the Triple Crown, many observers considered Affirmed to be “lucky”. After falling just short in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Alydar put his nose in front of Affirmed in the late stages of the Belmont, only to be outgamed to the wire. There’s no question that Affirmed earned his Triple Crown. Upon retirement, the two rivals would join one another at Calumet Farms.

3. Seattle Slew (1977)

He is the only colt in history to win the Triple Crown while undefeated. He developed a life-threatening virus at the end of his 3-year-old campaign, but would return to win five of seven starts the following year. He has the distinction of being the only Triple Crown winner to defeat another Triple Crown winner, defeating the younger Affirmed by three lengths in the Marlboro Cup.

2. Citation (1948)

Called the “greatest horse of all time” by arguably the greatest jockey of all time, Eddie Arcaro. He dominated all three Triple Crown races and won 19 of 20 races as a 3-year-old. Many of those wins were against tough, older horses. He still shares the all-time Thoroughbred record with 16 consecutive wins, and he was the first ever to pass $1 million in career earnings.

1. Secretariat (1973)

This “tremendous machine” is easily the best horse we’ve seen in the last 50 years. His domination of the Triple Crown built Big Red’s legend, and his crushing, 31-length Belmont demolition is considered by many to be the most impressive victory in the history of the sport. Not only did he dominate his rivals on the dirt, but he also did his share of damage on the turf. In his grass debut, he set a new course record in the Man o’ War at Belmont.

Past Triple Crown Winners



 Career Record



Sir Barton




Gallant Fox








War Admiral








Count Fleet
















Seattle Slew







2014 California Chrome? One can only hope!


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