Justify, the 13th winner, at the 2018 Preakness Stakes.

In the United States, the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, commonly known as the Triple Crown, is a title awarded to a three-year-old Thoroughbred horse who wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. The three races were inaugurated in different years, the last being the Kentucky Derby in 1875. The Triple Crown Trophy, commissioned in 1950 but awarded to all previous winners as well as those after 1950, is awarded to a Triple Crown winner. The races are traditionally run in May and early June of each year, although global events have resulted in schedule adjustments, such as in 1945 and 2020.

The first winner of all three Triple Crown races was Sir Barton in 1919. Some journalists began using the term Triple Crown to refer to the three races as early as 1923, but it was not until Gallant Fox won the three events in 1930 that Charles Hatton of the Daily Racing Form put the term into common use.

In the history of the Triple Crown, 13 horses have won all three races: 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), and Justify (2018). As of 2018, American Pharoah and Justify are the only living Triple Crown winners.

James E. "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons was the first trainer to win the Triple Crown more than once; he trained both Gallant Fox and Fox's son Omaha for the Belair Stud breeding farm. Gallant Fox and Omaha are the only father-son duo to win the Triple Crown. Bob Baffert became the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice, training American Pharoah and Justify. Belair Stud and Calumet Farm are tied as the owners with the most Triple Crown victories with two apiece. Calumet Farms won with Whirlaway and Citation. Eddie Arcaro rode both of Calumet Farms' Triple Crown champions and is the only jockey to win more than one Triple Crown.

Secretariat holds the stakes record time for each of the three races. His time of 2:24 for ​1 12 miles in the 1973 Belmont Stakes also set a world record that still stands.[1]

Development

The three Triple Crown races had been run for decades before the series received its name; the Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867, the Preakness in 1873,[2] and the Kentucky Derby in 1875. The term was in use at least by 1923, although Daily Racing Form writer Charles Hatton is commonly credited with originating the term in 1930.[3]

The order that the races are run in has varied. The Preakness has been run before the Kentucky Derby 11 times, most recently in 1931.[4][5] On May 12, 1917, and May 13, 1922, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were run on the same day.[6] From 1932 through 2019, the Kentucky Derby was run first, followed by the Preakness, and then the Belmont.[7] Running the three races in a five-week span was instituted in 1969.[6]

Scheduling has been affected by global events. During World War II, the 1945 Kentucky Derby was moved from May 5 to June 9, with the Preakness and Belmont following on June 16 and June 23, respectively.[8] In 2020, the Triple Crown was altered from its usual sequence due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The adjusted schedule starts with the Belmont Stakes on June 20, at the shortened distance of ​1 18 miles (9 furlongs). The Kentucky Derby is scheduled to follow on September 5, and finally the Preakness on October 3.[7] It is the first time since 1931 for the races to be run in a different order, and the first time for the Belmont Stakes to be run as the opening leg of the Triple Crown.[9]

Each Triple Crown race is open to both colts and fillies. Although fillies have won each of the individual Triple Crown races, none has won the Triple Crown itself.[10] Despite attempts to develop a "Filly Triple Crown" or a "Triple Tiara" for fillies only, no set series of three races has consistently remained in the public eye, and at least four different types of races have been used. Two fillies won the series of the Kentucky Oaks, the Pimlico Oaks (now the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes), and the Coaching Club American Oaks, in 1949 and 1952, but the racing press did not designate either accomplishment as a "Triple Crown". In 1961, the New York Racing Association created a filly Triple Crown of in-state races only, but the races changed over the years. Eight fillies won the NYRA Triple Tiara between 1968 and 1993.[11]

Gelded colts may run in any of the three races today, but they were prohibited from entering the Belmont between 1919 and 1957. Geldings have won each of the individual races,[12][13] but like fillies, no gelding has ever won the Triple Crown. The closest was Funny Cide, who won the Derby and the Preakness in 2003.[14]

Each of the races is held on a dirt track, rather than the turf commonly used for important races in Europe.[citation needed]

Triple Crown races
Kentucky Derby
"The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports"
Preakness Stakes
"The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans"
Belmont Stakes
"The Test of the Champion"
Date First Saturday in May Third Saturday in May Third Saturday following the Preakness
(first or second Saturday in June)
Current Track Churchill Downs Pimlico Race Course Belmont Park
Location Louisville, Kentucky Baltimore, Maryland Elmont, New York
Distance 1 14 miles (10 furlongs; 2,000 m) 1 316 miles (9.5 furlongs; 1,900 m) 1 12 miles (12 furlongs; 2,400 m)
Background Inaugurated in 1875, the race was originally 1 12 miles (2,400 m) until 1897 when it was shortened to its current distance. It is the only one of the three races to have been continuously run from its inception. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds (57 kg) and fillies 121 pounds (55 kg). The field has been limited to 20 horses since 1975. Started in 1873 and continuously run since 1894, it is the shortest of the three races. Pimlico was the home of the race from 1873 to 1889 and again from 1908 until the present. The Preakness was not run from 1891 to 1893. Weights are the same as for the Derby. Field is limited to 14 horses. Begun in 1867, it is the oldest of the three races, though not held in 1911 and 1912 due to anti-gambling legislation in New York. Race was held at various New York tracks until 1905 when Belmont Park became the permanent location. Distance varied from 1 58 to 1 18 miles (2,600 to 1,800 m) until set at 1 12 miles (2,400 m) in 1926, making it the longest of the three. Weight assignments are the same as the other two races. Field is limited to 16 horses.
Trophy Ky Derby Trophy.jpg
The Kentucky Derby Trophy
Woodlawn Vase Preakness Stakes.jpg
The Woodlawn Vase
Belmont Cup.png
The August Belmont Trophy

Winners

The sixth winner, Count Fleet, in the 1943 Kentucky Derby
The seventh winner, Assault in 1946 with Warren Mehrtens, jockey
Triple Crown winners[15]
Year Winner Jockey Trainer Owner Breeder Colors
1919 Sir Barton Johnny Loftus H. Guy Bedwell J. K. L. Ross John E. Madden Owner John E Madden.svg
1930 Gallant Fox Earl Sande Jim Fitzsimmons Belair Stud Belair Stud Owner Belair Stud.svg
1935 Omaha Willie "Smokey" Saunders Jim Fitzsimmons Belair Stud Belair Stud Owner Belair Stud.svg
1937 War Admiral Charles Kurtsinger George Conway Samuel D. Riddle Samuel D. Riddle Owner Samuel D Riddle.svg
1941 Whirlaway Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones Calumet Farm Calumet Farm Owner Calumet Farm original.svg
1943 Count Fleet Johnny Longden Don Cameron Fannie Hertz Fannie Hertz Owner Fannie Hertz.svg
1946 Assault Warren Mehrtens Max Hirsch King Ranch King Ranch Assault
1948 Citation Eddie Arcaro Horace A. "Jimmy" Jones Calumet Farm Calumet Farm Owner Calumet Farm original.svg
1973 Secretariat Ron Turcotte Lucien Laurin Meadow Stable Meadow Stable Owner Meadow Stable.svg
1977 Seattle Slew Jean Cruguet William H. Turner, Jr. Mickey and Karen L. Taylor,
Tayhill Stable/Jim Hill, et al.
Ben S. Castleman Owner Ben S Castleman.svg
1978 Affirmed Steve Cauthen Laz Barrera Harbor View Farm Harbor View Farm Affirmed
2015 American Pharoah Victor Espinoza Bob Baffert Ahmed Zayat Ahmed Zayat American Pharoah
2018 Justify Mike Smith Bob Baffert China Horse Club
Head of Plains Partners
Starlight Racing
WinStar Farm
John D. Gunther Justify and Justify
During his 2018 bid for the Triple Crown, Justify used the colors of WinStar Farms (white, green and black star) for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The colors of China Horse Club (red, yellow stars and sleeves) were used in the Belmont Stakes.

At completion of the 2016 season, the three Triple Crown races have attracted 4,224 entrants. Of these, 292 horses have won a single leg of the Triple Crown, 52 horses have won two of the races (23 the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, 18 the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, and 11 the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes), and 13 horses have won all three races. Pillory won both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 1922, a year when it was impossible to win the Triple Crown because the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes were run on the same day.

10 of the 13 winners have been "homebreds", owned at the time of their win by their breeders.[16]

Jim Fitzsimmons and Bob Baffert are the only two trainers to have two horses win the Triple Crown, with Fitzsimmons training the sire/son combination of 1930 winner Gallant Fox and 1935 winner Omaha and Baffert training 2015 winner American Pharoah and 2018 winner Justify. The wins by Fitzsimmons were also the first time that an owner and the first time that a breeder, Belair Stud holding both duties, had a repeat win of the Triple Crown. Calumet Farm is the only other owner with two Triple Crown horses, 1941 winner Whirlaway and 1948 winner Citation. Eddie Arcaro is the only jockey to ride two horses to the Triple Crown, both for Calumet, Whirlaway and Citation. Those two horses' trainers, Ben Jones and Jimmy Jones, were father and son.

All 13 horses, and most owners, trainers, and jockeys were born in the United States. The exceptions were jockey Johnny Longden, born in England and raised in Canada; French-born jockey Jean Cruguet; trainer Laz Barrera, from Cuba; and jockey Victor Espinoza, from Mexico. Secretariat's trainer, Lucien Laurin and jockey, Ron Turcotte were both Canadians. Owner Fannie Hertz was married to John D. Hertz, who was born in Slovakia; owner Ahmed Zayat was born in Egypt. Jockey Willie Saunders is considered a Canadian jockey because he grew up and established his career there, but was born in Montana. The horse Sir Barton was foaled in the United States but had a Canadian owner, J. K. L. Ross, at the time of his Triple Crown win, while Justify's owners were from both the United States and China.

Records

Secretariat holds the stakes record for each of the Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5), the Preakness Stakes (1:53), and the Belmont Stakes (2:24).[17][18]

At 18, Steve Cauthen became the youngest jockey to win the Triple Crown, riding Affirmed in 1978. At 52, Mike Smith became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown, riding Justify in 2018.

Other notable achievements

Only one horse, Alydar, has placed (finished second) in all three races. He was defeated by Affirmed in all three races in 1978 by a combined margin of two lengths. His trainer John Veitch is the only trainer to have done this with one horse. In 1995, D. Wayne Lukas became the first and only major figure (owner, jockey, or trainer) to win all three Triple Crown races with different horses, Thunder Gulch in the Derby and Belmont, Timber Country in the Preakness. Lukas also is the only trainer to have won six straight Triple Crown races, adding his 1995 wins, having won the 1994 Preakness and Belmont with Tabasco Cat and the 1996 Derby with Grindstone.[19]

Like Veitch, only with two different horses, Bob Baffert also had second-place finishes in all three legs of the Triple Crown, both owned by Ahmed Zayat: in 2012, Bodemeister finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness stakes to I'll Have Another, then Paynter was entered and finished second to Union Rags.[20] Baffert and Zayat teamed up again for the 2015 Triple Crown victory of American Pharoah.

Gallant Fox is the only Triple Crown winner to sire another U.S. Triple Crown winner, Omaha. Affirmed sired Peteski, winner of the 1993 Canadian Triple Crown.[21]

Julie Krone became the first (and currently only[22]) female jockey to win a Triple Crown race when she won the 1993 Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair.

Whirlaway, in addition to winning the 1941 Triple Crown, also won the Travers Stakes that year, which is sometimes called the fourth leg of the Triple Crown. Whirlaway became the first and only horse to date to accomplish that feat.

American Pharoah, in addition to winning the 2015 Triple Crown, also won the Breeders' Cup Classic that year. As the Breeders' Cup was not established until 1984, American Pharoah was the first (and currently only) horse to sweep all four races, a feat that came to be known as the Grand Slam.[23][24]

Gaps between wins

Horses leaving the Belmont Park starting gate at the beginning of a horse race
California Chrome (second from right) was stepped on by the number 3 horse while leaving the starting gate at the 2014 Belmont Stakes

After the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, in 1919, there was not another winner until Gallant Fox in 1930, a gap of 11 years. Between 1930 and 1948, seven horses won the Triple Crown, with five years being the longest gap between winners. However, following the 1948 win of Citation, there was a considerable gap of 25 years before Secretariat ended the drought of Triple Crown champions in 1973. Between 1973 and 1978, there were three Triple Crown winners.

After Affirmed's Triple Crown in 1978, the longest drought in Triple Crown history began in 1979 with Spectacular Bid's failed Triple Crown attempt at the Belmont Stakes, and lasted until American Pharoah won in 2015. Between 1979 and 2014 thirteen horses won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but either failed to win the Belmont Stakes or could not start in the race. Of those, Real Quiet came the closest to winning the Triple Crown, losing the Belmont Stakes by a nose in 1998. Spectacular Bid finished 3rd in 1979. Pleasant Colony finished 3rd in 1981. Alysheba finished 4th in 1987. Sunday Silence finished 2nd in 1989. Real Quiet finished 2nd in 1998. Charismatic finished 3rd in 1999. War Emblem finished 8th in 2002. Funny Cide finished 3rd in 2003. Smarty Jones finished 2nd in 2004. Big Brown did not finish in 2008. I'll Have Another did not start (injury) 2012. California Chrome finished 4th in 2014.

In the 1979-2015 period, horses who contested all three races, losing the Kentucky Derby but winning the Preakness and the Belmont were Risen Star in 1988, Hansel in 1991, Tabasco Cat in 1994, Point Given in 2001, and Afleet Alex in 2005. In 1972, Riva Ridge and 1984, Swale and in 1995, Thunder Gulch ran all three races, winning the Derby and the Belmont, but not the Preakness.

The 37-year gap between the Triple Crown wins of Affirmed and American Pharoah drew criticism of the system. As far back as 1986, reporters noted that horses who were fresh for the Belmont had an advantage.[25] In 2003, Gary Stevens stated in an interview with Charlie Rose that he did not believe there would be another Triple Crown winner because of the tendency for owners to put fresh horses in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.[26] California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn was particularly critical of the Triple Crown system in post-Belmont remarks in 2014; he considered the system to be unfair, arguing that there would never be another Triple Crown winner in his lifetime unless only horses that competed in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness competed at the Belmont. By 2014, six of the previous eight Belmont winners had not competed in either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown.[27] Additionally, from 2006 to 2014, the Belmont winner was a horse who had not competed in the Preakness.[28][29]

Unsuccessful bids

Big Brown, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, at the 2008 Belmont Stakes, where he was pulled up and did not finish.

Since all three events were inaugurated, through the 2019 races, 23 horses have won the Derby and Preakness but not the Belmont: