The Triple Crown: an Amazing yet Difficult Accomplishment

By Daniel Morgan, Advertising Manager

American Pharoah just earned 2015’s Triple Crown, making him the first racehorse to win the title in 37 years. But since then, and still today, the races are receiving undeserved criticism.

The U.S. Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, better known as the Triple Crown, has been a coveted American accolade since Sir Barton became the first horse to achieve it in 1919.

To win the Triple Crown, a three-year-old racehorse must win all three Triple Crown races: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. Sir Barton was the first to win it, but he was not given the official Triple Crown title until the Daily Racing Form’s Charles Hatton used the term in 1930 after Gallant Fox won it.

It is such a valuable and elite honor that only 12 horses have earned the title: 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) and American Pharoah (2015).

The races are scheduled weeks apart, which makes it hard to keep a horse in prime condition for each race. What provides even more of a challenge, however, are the new horses that show up after the Kentucky Derby that try to throw off the Triple Crown contender.

Horses that do not race in the Kentucky Derby are still allowed to participate in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, which has caused much distaste and controversy over the years.

Look at last year’s Belmont Stakes upset. The horse California Chrome won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 2014, and was all set to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years. All it took was a bump at the starting gate to end the winning streak and make us wait another year for American Pharoah.

California Chrome’s co-owner, Steve Coburn, was furious about losing the Belmont Stakes to Tonalist, who had not raced in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes. He complained that they took the “coward’s way out.”

“It’s not fair to these horses that are running to entertain these people in all three legs of the Triple Crown,” he said. “It’s not fair to them to have somebody just show up at the last minute and run.

He didn’t stop there. “It wouldn’t be fair if I played basketball with a child in a wheelchair because I got an unfair advantage,” Coburn said. “If your horse is good enough to run in the Belmont, where was he in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness? It says Triple Crown, not one out of two, one out of three or two out of three.”

Obviously fueled with anger at the defeat, Coburn may have went too far in his criticisms of the Triple Crown. It’s fascinating that he considers it to be cowardly because, in reality, putting fresh competition on the tracks with a Triple Crown hopeful makes it that much more exciting and rewarding if they end up receiving the title.

Think about it. Wouldn’t you feel more accomplished if you defeated new, tougher competition instead of gliding through a race with the ease of knowing that you’ve beaten the competition before?

Some disagree, saying that the format makes it too difficult for a horse to receive the title, but more still value and appreciate the Triple Crown because of its undeniably hard attainability.

Penny Chenery, owner of 1973’s Triple Crown winner Secretariat, said, “It’s been this way for so long and all of our records and statistics are based on this…this is horse racing. If you make it too easy, then we’ll have more Triple Crown winners and it will lose its validity.”

“It’s the idea of something that has been out of reach,” she said. “People like records and astounding feats, and it just catches their eye that it’s been, what, 37 years since this has been accomplished? If we had a Triple Crown winner every other year, they wouldn’t look up.”

1977’s Seattle Slew co-owner, Dr. Jim Hill, had the same thoughts. “It’s supposed to be a tough thing to do,” he said, “and I think each race stands on its own.”

The Triple Crown will undoubtedly remain as one of the most respected, and most unattainable, honors in history. The trophy is great, but the victory of such a challenge is the ultimate reward for the horse and its owner.

Be Sociable, Share!