The Triple Crown

The 2019 Kentucky Derby is two weeks away.  It is the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown– one of the most celebrated achievements in sports.  If you’re a casual fan of Thoroughbred Racing you probably know that the Triple Crown exists, but you might not know its significance or some of the details about the historic series.  If that is the case, here is a brief guide with everything you need to know.

What is the Triple Crown?

The Triple Crown is a series of three Thoroughbred races each spring, at different tracks and distances over the course of five weeks.

What are the races in the series?

The Triple Crown kicks off with the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May each year.  It’s run at 1 ¼ miles at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.  The second race in the series, often called the “second jewel” or “middle jewel” of the Triple Crown, is the Preakness Stakes two weeks later.  Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore, Md., hosts the 1 3/16-mile event.  The final leg of the series is the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes, run at Belmont Park near New York City three weeks after the Preakness.

How long has the Triple Crown been in existence?

The three races themselves have been around since 1875 (Kentucky Derby), 1873 (Preakness), and 1867 (Belmont), respectively.  The term Triple Crown wasn’t widely used until 1930 when it was Won for the second time.  The three races had risen to such prominence that the term was adopted to echo England’s Triple Crown, which included three of that country’s most important races.

What horses are eligible for the races?

The Triple Crown races are only open to 3-year-old Thoroughbreds, which means each horse only has one shot to Win it in his or her lifetime.  Either gender can compete, though filly (female) competitors in the races are rare, and a filly has never Won the series.  Each horse must be nominated, which includes a fee, before running.  Usually that happens in late winter, but sometimes it is done just days before the race, in which case the fee increases greatly.

How many horses have tried to Win the Triple Crown?

Many owners have dreams of Winning the series and point their horses toward the Triple Crown races from the start of their careers.  Every horse that runs in the Kentucky Derby (limited to 20 each year) has a shot at the Triple Crown.  After the KD just one horse has a chance at the Triple Crown, and that horse usually does continue to Pimlico to try for the second leg.  Thirty-five of 143 Derby Winners also won the Preakness and proceeded to Belmont Park with a shot at the Triple Crown.

How many horses have Won the Triple Crown?

Thirteen: 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).

Why is the Triple Crown so hard to Win?

Most top-tier racehorses run about once every 3-4 weeks at racetracks near their home base.  The Triple Crown requires a horse to run three times in five weeks at three different tracks over three different distances, traversing the eastern half of the United States.  Add to that other variables, such as timing and strategy by the jockey, the weather, riding tactics of other jockeys in the race, and general bad luck could hamper a horse’s performance in a given race.  A horse has only one shot at each of the three Triple Crown races and there are no do-overs; everything must go perfectly.

How much money does a horse earn for Winning the Triple Crown?

A Triple Crown-Winning horse earns the Winner’s share of the purse for each of the three races.  Currently, that is $1.86 Million for the KD, $900,000 for the Preakness, and $800,000 for the Belmont.  Horses who Win these races also greatly increase their value for their post-racing breeding career (see stud fees).  However, there is currently no special bonus or monetary prize associated with sweeping the Triple Crown.  The only award is a silver trophy – and having your horse’s name forever etched in the history books.

Will there be another Triple Crown Winner this year?  The only certainty is that one of the twenty that enter the gate on May 4th will have a chance.  The Daily Racing Blog will bring you more Kentucky Derby coverage throughout the next two weeks.

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