The Triple Tiara
By Teresa Genaro, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
You might be forgiven for not knowing exactly what the Triple Tiara is. Or if it’s the same thing as the Filly Triple Crown. Or for not knowing what, exactly, that is, either. When Sir Barton won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont in 1919, the three races weren’t known as the Triple Crown, and the accomplishment wasn’t acknowledged as such a terribly big deal. But when Gallant Fox won them in 1930, the phrase “Triple Crown” was used to describe his victories, and when Omaha won these races five years later, the name had stuck. The Triple Crown was established, and in the 75 years since, nothing’s changed.
A high profile series of races for 3-year-old fillies has had a rougher road to recognition: the races it comprises has changed a number of times, as has its name. Firmly establishing a series of races for 3-year-old fillies has been no easy task.
During the first part of the last century, the Kentucky Oaks, the Pimlico Oaks, and the Coaching Club American Oaks were part of an informal filly Triple Crown series; a May 1952 article in Daily Racing Form notes that Wistful was the only winner of the “three-year-old filly classics at the Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park.” She completed the sweep in 1949, and neither the Racing Form nor the New York Times made mention of a triple crown of any sort at the time, even as each publication acknowledged that Wistful had won both the Kentucky and Pimlico Oaks. She is apparently the only filly to have won all three races when they were run under those names.
In 1952, Real Delight won the same three races—sort of. That year, the name of the Pimlico Oaks was changed to the Black-Eyed Susan, and again, neither the Times nor the Form indicated that Real Delight had done anything more significant than win a number of well known stakes races.
The Filly Triple Crown seems to have become an official entity in 1961, when the New York Racing Association claimed the name to describe the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks. These races had existed for some time (1931, 1947, and 1917 respectively), but in 1961, NYRA bundled them as a series and offered a $25,000 bonus to the winner of all three of them.
An official name and a financial incentive were not, however, guarantees of respect or success; when, in 1963, Spicy Living headed to the Coaching Club American Oaks having already won the Acorn and the Mother Goose, Joe Nichols in the Times noted that a “Triple Crown of a rather esoteric nature” was on the line; when he referred to the race as a “classic,” he put it in quotation marks.
In 1967, Charles Hatton in the Daily Racing Form offered a brief history of the evolution of the series, and gave the NYRA version his imprimatur:
[NYRA’s decision] reflects a sensitive entirely sound (sic) grasp of box office values and a flair for showmanship. Other and richer races there are, but the NYRA series accrue (sic) a special significance, challeging (sic) the best horses to win the proudest honors. These series inculcate a way of thinking about them. Regarded individually they are just three other races. Collectively, they gain in importance.
The series not only has color and imagination but makes a prerequisite of speed, stamina and versatility, with a $25,000 bonus inviting the leaders in the division to attempt the hat trick and bring off victories in all three races.
Over the next 38 years, eight fillies—Dark Mirage, Shuvee, Chris Evert, Ruffian, Davona Dale, Mom’s Command, Open Mind, and Sky Beauty—won the Filly Triple Crown. Sort of. The fillies who won the series before 1987 won the Triple Crown; Open Mind and Sky Beauty won the Triple Tiara. A 1989 New York Times article by Steven Crist offers a delightfully mocking look at the decision to change the name of the series:
Two years ago, when the big Triple Crown started flexing its newly incorporated and copyrighted muscles, it was suggested to Belmont Park officials that calling anything but the Triple Crown a triple crown might confuse the public.
It is difficult to see how anyone who can spell “triple,” much less bet one, would confuse the Acorn, Mother Goose and C.C.A. Oaks with the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. But just to be safe, track officials renamed the fillies’ series the Triple Tiara.
Crist has much more to say about the Triple Tiara beyond a discussion of its name, and the article is well worth reading (though payment or a subscription may be required) for his various insights and commentary on such things as the lengths at which the races were run.
But wait! 1987 wasn’t the last time that the Filly Triple Crown Triple Tiara underwent changes. In 2003, the Acorn was excised from the series and replaced with the Alabama, the oldest stakes race for fillies in the country. Three years later, the Alabama was given the boot, and the Acorn returned to its spot as the first jewel in this crown. In 2004, the financial incentive for winning the Triple Tiara was discontinued by NYRA, “citing budget concerns and a perceived lack of interest in the races the series comprised.”
But wait! There’s more! Two years ago, I wrote this:
“doesn’t it seem like the series could be a good marketing tool?” Why not play up the Triple Tiara through the spring racing season? Lots of trainers ship in for the Belmont; easy enough to bring your best filly and point her towards this series. I know, I know—running four races in four months (Acorn, Mother Goose, Coaching Club, Alabama) isn’t the way it’s done these days. But in the reading I did, the Triple Tiara did seem to carry with it a certain prestige, and wouldn’t you want your filly to join the ranks of Sky Beauty, Mom’s Command, Davona Dale, Ruffian, Chris Evert, Shuvee, and Dark Mirage? Pretty impressive and exclusive company.
So here’s a plea to NYRA to emphasize this series next year, and to market it clearly and well.
And in 2010, that’s exactly what they did. (Yeah, yeah, I know: coincidence doesn’t equal causality.)
That year, Betfair TVG sponsored each of the three races in the series in yet another entirely new configuration: the Acorn, the Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Alabama. Betfair TVG also offered an incentive: the owners of any filly able to win all three prestigious Grade 1 races would get a $50,000 bonus to go the charity of their choice. If no filly swept the series, Betfair TVG offered $30,000 to the chosen charity of the owners of the filly that accumulated the most points over the three races. That filly was Devil May Care. The Alabama was her last race, and she died of cancer in May of 2011.
This year, Betfair TVG will again sponsor the races, but without the points system and donations for participating.
So we briefly had a marketing campaign designed around the Triple Tiara, but it was, unfortunately, short-lived. The new configuration of the races lives on, though, and I’m sad, from a historical perspective, that the Mother Goose has been dropped in favor of the Alabama, though I can see that the Alabama has much more marketing appeal than the Mother Goose.
By my count, the Triple Tiara series has comprised four different configurations, and has had two different names and two different bonuses. The Acorn/Mother Goose/CCA Oaks version lasted 26 years; the Mother Goose/CCA Oaks/Alabama lasted three; the original came back for four. We’re on year two for this configuration: anyone care to offer an over/under on how long it will last?
Winners of the Triple Tiara Racing Series
Dark Mirage – 1968
Shuvee* – 1969
Chris Evert – 1974
Ruffian – 1975
Davona Dale – 1979
Mom’s Command* – 1985
Open Mind* – 1989
Sky Beauty* – 1993
*Denotes that the filly also won the Alabama Stakes, which at the time was not a part of the Triple Tiara. Essentially these fillies won the Acorn, Coaching Club Oaks, Mother Goose and the Alabama.