She didn’t make her first start until the end of her 3-year-old season, thus eliminating any chance of running in the TripleCrown races. Minnow’s career earnings total $6,427,830, but he didn’t make his first stakes start until July of his 3-year-old year, after the TripleCrown.
Holy Bull won 13 of his 16 career starts but finished an inexplicable 12th in the 1994 Kentucky Derby as a heavy favorite. Holy Bull rebounded to defeat older horses in the Metropolitan Handicap later that month, one of his six Grade 1 (the highest level) wins in his career.
Cigar put together an awe-inspiring 16-race win streak beginning in October 1994, winning top-tier races in New York, Florida, Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and even Dubai, triumphing in the inaugural Dubai World Cup in 1996. He won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic and four Eclipse Awards, including two Horse of the Year titles, and amassed career earnings just shy of $10 million.
Personal Ensign won all of her 13 races, including a breathtaking victory in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff over that year’s Kentucky Derby actress Winning Colors on a muddy track she didn’t like. She won the Grade 1 Frigate Stakes as a 2-year-old but wouldn’t run again until September of her 3-year-old season, missing all the TripleCrown races.
Personal Ensign defeated males in the 1988 Whitney Handicap en route to being named champion older female that year. This Oklahoma-bred wasn’t burdened with high expectations early in her career, but Lady's Secret proved appearances can be deceiving.
The daughter of Secretariat won 25 of 45 races and finished second or third another 12 times. She earned more than $3 million in her career and took home Horse of the Year and champion older female honors in 1986, but Lady’s Secret did not contest the 1985 TripleCrown races.
Altar may have swept the series if he was born in any other year, but he had the misfortune of entering the world just a few weeks after Affirmed and later chasing him to the finish in the 1978 Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. He tallied 39 wins, 15 seconds and nine thirds on the turf and on the dirt, but he didn’t run in a graded stakes race until after his TripleCrown opportunity was lost.
Finishing first, second or third in 50 of those races led to the gelding amassing nearly $2 million in earnings. He won four straight Woodward Stakes, a record that may never be matched, as well as multiple editions of the Metropolitan and Widener Handicaps in a historic career.
The 1973 Kentucky Derby was the only TripleCrown race Forego ran in, finishing fourth behind Secretariat. Dr. Eager had the rare kind of talent and versatility that enabled him to be named a champion on dirt and turf over sprint and route distances.
He did not compete in any of the TripleCrown races despite being a multiple stakes winner by that time in his career. Blood-Horse ranked him as the fourth-greatest racehorse of the 20th century, just behind Man o’ War and a pair of TripleCrown winners.
Coal town was a three-time champion in his four-year career, sweeping the titles for Horse of the Year and older male in 1949 and assuming the role of Calumet Farm’s star runner a year after the farm’s Citation won the TripleCrown. The horses who won the Derby and the Preakness get the most attention because, like Big Brown on Saturday, they raced in the Belmont with a TripleCrown on the line.
Of the 10 that were in that position before Big Brown, the best, in my opinion, was Spectacular Bid, the thunderous dark gray who was a three-year-old in 1979. After winning the Derby and the Preakness, he stepped on a safety pin in his stall on the morning of the Belmont.
Trained by Bob Affect, the massive colt dominated his rivals in the Preakness and the Belmont after finishing fifth in Kentucky. Affect received more attention for Silver Charm and Real Quiet, colts that went into the Belmont with a chance, but there’s little doubt he would point to Point Given as his most talented “near miss.” The colt won 9 of 13 career races, ran second in three and finished out of the money only once, in the Derby.
Of course, any list of the best horses that didn’t win the TripleCrown must start with Man o’ War, widely considered to be the greatest American thoroughbred ever. Then there was Native Dancer, the Gray Ghost, who won 21 of 22 career starts, including the Preakness and the Belmont, but finished second in the Kentucky Derby as a 1-5 favorite.
He has only raced five times and won’t grace the track much longer, so it will be hard to lump him with all-time greats who took on more challenges. But as a 2-5 morning-line favorite, he is a good bet to join the shorter list of horses who DID capture all three legs.
John Eisenberg is an author and sportswriter who worked in newspapers for 28 years, mostly at The Baltimore Sun, where he was a columnist until June 2007. The Rail Content Is On the Move This blog’s regular features, including live race analysis and news and notes from Joe Drape, Melissa Hopper and others, can now be found on the sports home page.
On Saturday, June 7 horse racing fans could not disguise their disappointment when California Chrome failed to win the race and The TripleCrown, finishing tied for fourth, thus becoming the latest in a line of 36 horses to lose a bid at the TripleCrown. Now, California Chrome is taking some time off as his trainers and staff work to help the colt recover from an injury to the hoof he suffered during the Belmont.
By winning the TripleCrown, a horse has proven it has the right mix of speed and stamina to be first in three grueling races spread across five weeks. A total of 11 horses have won the TripleCrown since 1919 when Sir Barton became the first to wear the crown, although he wasn't recognized as the first winner until 1948.
The 1919 Kentucky Derby was Sir Barton's first start as a 3-year-old, and his original purpose in the race was to exhaust the favorite, Eternal, and give his stable-mate Billy Kelly a shot at the win. Following a victory at the Preakness, Barton would go on to win the Belmont in record time facing only two other horses.
In 1930 the Preakness was run before the Kentucky Derby, and Gallant Fox won both races, but the colt was not the favorite heading into Belmont that year. The favorite was a horse named Which one, who had missed the first two races due to a knee injury.
This colt turned a TripleCrown victory into a family affair when he won in 1935 following in the footsteps of his sire Gallant Fox. This handsome chestnut was tall like his father and inherited his speed, which came in handy with the colt earning a reputation as the 3-year-old to beat.
Omaha's win at the Belmont was not an easy victory as he was shuffled back when the gates opened. When you are the son of the legendary race horseman o'War great things are expected of you, and this mink-brown colt delivered when he became the TripleCrown champion in 1937.
After acting up and delaying the start of the race, War Admiral stumbled at the break cutting off a chunk of his front right heel. Known as racing's “Cunningest” horse, and called “dumb,” “stupid” and “crazy” by his owner, this brilliant chestnut gained a number of fans thanks to his antics on the track.
Joe Palmer wrote in the Blood-Horse that Whirl away had “an annihilating burst of speed which he can apparently turn on at any stage of the race.” That June, only two horses were brave enough to compete in the Belmont against Count Fleet, and the colt would win by an impressive 25-length lead, a record that would stand until 1973.
Secretariat's story is the stuff of sports legends, and his record-setting victory at the Belmont, by 31 lengths, has never been touched. “Big Red,” as he was affectionately known by his army of loyal fans, was featured on the cover of national magazines and was named horse of the year twice during his career.
It was his astonishing victory at the Belmont that turned Secretariat into the greatest race horse of all time. Breaking away from the pack and finishing the race alone, Secretariat was “moving like a tremendous machine,” said announcer Chick Anderson.
Described by belmontstakes.com as having “no white markings, big floppy ears, and a domineering personality,” Seattle Slew was the 10th TripleCrown winner, a triumph that only one more horse would accomplish. At the Kentucky Derby, Affirmed beat Altar by a length and a half and won the Preakness by a neck.
Before a horse like American Pharaoh can ever capture the elusive TripleCrown of thoroughbred horse racing, there are many hurdles to overcome. The road to the TripleCrown is a complicated process that begins before a horse is even born.
A horse can be nominated during a period of time from as soon as it is born just a few months before the Kentucky Derby. In many cases, a horse will be considered for nomination to the TripleCrown series by its owners before it is even born, based on the expectations of its breeding.
For example, some horse owners that breed their stakes-winning mares to the last TripleCrown winner American Pharaoh will nominate the resultant foal based solely on expectations. In many cases a horse will be nominated once it has started training and showed flashes of greatness.
One of the strongest statistics in horse racing that holds true almost every single year is that horses which do not begin their racing career as a two-year-old do no twin the Kentucky Derby, the first jewel of the TripleCrown. The ultimate prize for a two-year-old racehorse is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in late October or early November.
Oddly enough, the winner of this race has rarely come back to win the Kentucky Derby. Handicappers should pay special attention to the second, third, and fourth place finishers in this race.
On the first Saturday in May of each year, 20 horses will enter the starting gates at Churchill Downs to compete in the Run for the Roses. Today, a horse must earn qualifying points in a series of designated races.
At the end of the prep race period, the horses with the most points are given preference for entering the Kentucky Derby. The prep races and points system are designed to make sure only the best horses are able to compete for the TripleCrown.