Ten Things You Should Know: The Triple Crown
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
1) The United States Triple Crown comprises the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes — all races restricted to 3-year-old colts and fillies. The series is modeled after the English Triple Crown, also for 3-year-olds, that originated in the 1850s.
2) The first U.S. Triple Crown winner came in 1919 with Sir Barton. However, the series as we know it today originated in the 1930s. New York Times writer Bryan Field used the term “triple crown” to describe Gallant Fox’s sweep in 1930.
3) The current distances of the races–Kentucky Derby at 1 ¼ miles, Preakness at 1 3/16 miles, and the Belmont Stakes at 1 ½ miles were finalized in 1926 when the Belmont changed from 1 3/8 miles to its present distance.
4) A total of 12 colts have won the U.S. Triple Crown: 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).
5) The current incarnation of the Triple Crown series with the Kentucky Derby first, followed by the Preakness two weeks later, and the Belmont Stakes three weeks after the Preakness was established permanently in 1956. The 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox won the Preakness before the Kentucky Derby, the only time the series was won out of its current sequence.
6) The 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox also sired a Triple Crown winner, Omaha, who swept the series in 1935. They were both owned and bred by the Maryland-based Belair Stud and trained by Hall of Famer James “Sunny” Fitzsimmons.
7) Secretariat is considered the most dominant winner of the Triple Crown winners. He ran the fastest Kentucky Derby at 1:59. He would have set the record for the Preakness if not for a clock malfunction. In the Belmont Stakes, he set the American record for 1 ½ miles, stopping the clock in 2:24 and winning by 31 lengths. The next fastest Belmont by a Triple Crown winner came in 2015 when American Pharoah finished in 2:26.68. No colt has ever run within two seconds of Secretariat’s final time in the Belmont Stakes.
8) From 1979 to the present, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Smarty Jones all won the Derby and Preakness but finished second in the Belmont. A total of thirteen colts have won the first two legs but did not win the Belmont Stakes between 1978 and 2015.
9) Of the 12 Triple Crown winners, only Gallant Fox, Count Fleet and Secretariat did not race beyond their 3-year-old seasons. Count Fleet is the only Triple Crown winner that ran his last race in the Belmont Stakes — an injury forced him into an early retirement. American Pharoah is likely to join this group as his breeding rights have already been sold.
10) The 1941 and 1948 Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation were owned and bred by Calumet Farms. They were both trained by Ben Jones and ridden by jockey Eddie Arcaro. Arcaro is the only jockey to ride two Triple Crown winners.