There are few achievements in any sport as difficult as winning horse racing’s Triple Crown. It’s not uncommon for a horse to ‘come close’ and win two of the three Triple Crown races—the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Forty seven horses have won two of the three Triple Crown races. Twenty three have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, leaving them on the verge of immortality heading into the Belmont Stakes.
While there’s been a fair number of horses to win two of the three races only eleven horses in the history of the sport have won all three to complete the Triple Crown. They are Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973) and Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). If anything, winning the Triple Crown is harder now than at any point in racing history. It has been 37 years since the last Triple Crown and despite the fact that thirteen horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown none have been able to win all three.
The races that make up the Triple Crown each have their own unique characteristics. This also means that they require different ‘skill sets’ to win. This fact alone makes the Triple Crown a daunting task. Here are the three races that make up the Triple Crown and their characteristics:
THE KENTUCKY DERBY:
The Kentucky Derby remains the biggest horse race of the year for the casual sports fan. Source: Http://www.onlinederbyaction.com . The Breeders’ Cup may be of greater interest to serious handicappers and the Dubai World Cup may be the richest but in North America at least nothing tops the Kentucky Derby in terms of mainstream interest. This popularity with casual fans could be even bigger this year after the rock star-like status afforded to the 2014 winner, California Chrome. Chrome became one of the biggest horse racing stars of the past decade during his unsuccessful run at the Triple Crown and his popularity might bring in some new viewers for this year’s race.
The Kentucky Derby is run over 1 ¼ miles at Louisville’s icon Churchill Downs race track. Since most horses start competing seriously either late in their second year or early in their third year, this is not only the longest race that the equine competitors have faced but the most competitive. That’s why the Kentucky Derby betting favorite is not always a smart choice—sometimes he’s just the horse with the most publicity and not the best bet.
THE PREAKNESS STAKES:
The Preakness Stakes is roughly the same length as the Kentucky Derby but has a smaller field. This results in a faster pace favoring early speed and makes it an entirely different handicapping exercise from the Kentucky Derby. There will be a few horses that go from the Kentucky Derby to this race. Obviously, the Derby winner will be here as well as a few of the others. Other connections will not want to race their horses so quickly after the Kentucky Derby and hold them out to the Belmont or other lucrative three year old races later in the season.
In the handicapper’s favor for picking the Preakness is the fact that most of the horses are no longer ‘unknown quantities’. You can get a decent read on how good a horse will be by his Kentucky Derby performance and with a similar distance this can help pick a Preakness winner. The biggest challenge for the horses is the brutal two week lead time. With only two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness a horse needs serious stamina to win—or even compete—in both races.
THE BELMONT STAKES:
Betting on the Belmont Stakes horse race is possible as you near the third and final leg in the Triple Crown—and completely different from the first two races. This makes it difficult for the handicapper and the horses involved. The race is run over a mile and a half which is a longer distance than any of the entrants will have experienced. There’s a three week layoff between the Preakness and the Belmont but if a horse enters all three it’s a demanding three races in five weeks stretch.
One advantage is that the distance means that the race is run at a slower pace and negating the significance of early speed. More significantly, it’s a more tactical race. The added distance and slower pace means that jockeys can plan strategies and make adjustments throughout the event.