Only 11 Thoroughbreds have won racing's Triple Crown — The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, the "Test of a Champion." There has not been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. A look at the 11 horses that have achieved one of sport's most difficult feats:
1919: Sir Barton
He won before the term Triple Crown was even invented. And he wasn't even the best horse that year — that honor went to two-year-old Man 'O War. Sir Barton's first race as a 3-year-old was the Kentucky Derby. He also took a race between the Preakness and Belmont just to stay sharp, and won the 1-mile Withers. In the then-13/8-mile Belmont, Sir Barton faced only two opponents and won easily. Fans later clamored for a match race with Man 'O War, and Sir Barton was beaten soundly, by five lengths. He died in 1937 in at Douglas, Wyo.
1930: Gallant Fox
This year the Preakness was run before the Derby. Jockey Earl Sande, who had lost big in the 1929 stock market crash, came out of retirement to ride Gallant Fox, who was trained by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. The Preakness was run first this year and he won by under a length and came back eight days later to easily win the Derby. Gallant Fox was not the favorite in the Belmont, but he beat favored Whichone by three lengths. It was at this point that the term Triple Crown came into being. to be associated with winning the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, after a New York Times column. Gallant Gox died in 1954 and is buried at Claiborne Farms.
Omaha was the son of Gallant Fox, and inherited his sire's long legs and penchant for speed. He won the Derby by 11/2 lengths over Roman Soldier, and the following week won the Preakness in a six-length romp. He ran in the Withers between the Preakness and Belmont and finished second. He won the Belmont by 1 1/2 lengths. faced four horses in a driving rain at Belmont, and although he was last through the first half of the race made his move with three furlongs to go to win by a length and a half. Despite winning the Triple Crown, Omaha was not the Horse of the Year. That honor went to Discovery, who defeated Omaha later in June. Omaha died in 1957 at age 25.
1937: War Admiral
He was Man 'O War's best son, but was a full hand smaller and became known as "The Mighty Atom." Favored in the Derby, he beat two-year-old champion Pompoon by 11/2 lengths. A week later at the Preakness, he edged Pompoon by a head. In the Belmont, he won by three lengths despite slicing off a piece of his right front heel after stumbling at the start. He won 17 of his 19 races as a 3- and 4-year-old. One of the losses was to Seabiscuit in the famous match race in 1938. He died in 1959 and was buried next to his father underneath the famous Man'O War statue at Faraway Farms in Lexington, Ky.
His rider, Eddie Arcaro, called him the "runningest" horse – not the best – he ever sat on. Known as "Mr. Longtail" for his long and bushy tail, the horse was a brilliant but unpredictable runner. After losing his final two Derby prep races, Arcaro was brought in to ride him, and won the Derby in a then-record 2:01 2/5. In the Preakness, after falling behind so badly that he was out of the picture, he stormed back to win by 51/2 lengths. In the Belmont, Arcaro and Whirlaway won by a length and a half. At age 4, he raced 22 times for war bonds and raised $5 million. He retired as the then all-time money-winner at $561,161. After a career as a successful sire, he died in 1953.
1943: Count Fleet
He was so mean that owner John D. Hertz, a former sportswriter who founded the Yellow Cab Co., tried to sell him, but jockey Johnny Longden talked him out of it, touting his greatness. He didn't run well until Longden figured out that he needed to go to the front and stay there. After that, he never lost. He won each of the three Triple Crown races wire-to-wire, by three lengths, eight lengths and 25 lengths, a Belmont record until Secretariat broke it 30 years later. It came at a price though, as Count Fleet bowed a tendon and never raced again. Even so, he was named Horse of the Year. He became a successful sire and died at age 33, the same year Secretariat won the Triple Crown.
When he was young he stepped on something sharp, which pierced his right front foot and left him with a permanent limp at a walk or trot. It led to his nickname, "The Club-footed Comet." He was also very small. On the day the U.S. dropped a bomb on Hiroshima, he won the Flash Stakes at 70-1 odds. In the Derby, Assault destroyed 16 horses, winning by 8 lengths at 8-1 odds. In the Preakness he led by 4 lengths at the top of the stretch but had to hold on to win by a neck. He won by three lengths over Natches in the Belmont. He had eight races with the great Stymie over the next two years and won five times. He did not produce any Thoroughbred offspring and died in 1971 at 28. His Hall of Fame trainer, Max Hirsch, said, "I never trained a better horse."
His trainer, Jimmy Jones, said "Citation is the best horse I ever saw, and I saw Man O' War." In the Derby, Citation, ridden by Arcaro, the only two-time Triple Crown winner, charged past his stablemate Big Cy and won by 31/2 lengths. He won the Preakness by 51/2 lengths and the Belmont by eight lengths. He finished 1948 by winning 19 of 20 starts, 17 of them stakes races in what is believed to be the greatest season ever by a racehorse. After becoming the first horse to win more than $1 million, he missed all of the 1949 season because of arthritis. He retired in 1951 and died in 1970 at age 25
No horse won with the same drama, style and flair as "Big Red." The son of Bold Ruler won Horse of the Year honors as a 2-year-old, a rarity in the sport. He was a 3-2 favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, the last time he went off as more than even money. He set track records in the Derby and Preakness (a replay of the race a few years ago discovered an errant time, and the new time was a track record). But he made his mark in the Belmont where he was the 1-10 favorite. He and his nemesis, Sham, who finished second in the Derby and Preakness, raced head-to-head in a break-neck first half mile. Then Secretariat began pulling away. Down the stretch, track announcer Chic Anderson yelled, "Secretariat is alone! He is moving like a tremendous machine! Unbelievable! He's 25 lengths in front!" He won by 31 lengths, the greatest performance in the history of horse racing. He ranked 35th on ESPN's 100 greatest athletes of the 20th century, one of only three non-humans on the list. Suffering from laminitis, he was euthanized in 1989 at the age of 19.
1977: Seattle Slew
He was described as ugly and never was expected to do much. He was sold at auction for $17,500 in 1975. Around the barn, his trainer referred to him as "Baby Huey." He was a dark bay, nearly black with floppy ears and no white markings. In the Derby, he got caught in traffic and scrapped his way to the front before winning by 13/4 lengths. In the Preakness, with Jean Cruget aboard, he got far enough ahead that Cruget eased him at the end and he won by 11/2 lengths. In the muddy Belmont, Slew had an even easier time, winning by five lengths. Cruget even stood up before the finish waving his whip. He became the first undefeated horse to win the Triple Crown. After developing a rare virus after his next start that nearly killed him, he began racing again. Two months before he retired in 1978, he defeated his Triple Crown heir, Affirmed. in the Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park. He died on the 25th anniversary of his Triple Crown win, May 7, 2002.
Affirmed's name will always be associated with Alydar, and theirs became an epic rivalry. In the Derby, Affirmed defeated Alydar by 11/2 lengths, with 18-year-old Steve Cauthen aboard. In the Preakness, Affirmed won again, but only by a neck. By the time the Belmont came around, those were the only two names on everyone's lips. What followed was perhaps the greatest showdown in Triple Crown history. Affirmed was in the lead, but Alydar relentlessly pursued his rival, until at the finish, Cauthen switched his whip to his left hand because the horses were so close. That switch might have been what Affirmed needed for a last lunge and he won by a head. It was the third-fastest Belmont and the first time the Triple Crown was won in successive years. In the Travers Stakes later that year, Affirmed and Alydar had another showdown. Affirmed finished first, but a track inquiry showed he drifted in front of Alydar entering the far turn, and Alydar was given the victory.
From the New York Racing Association