Whilst this is one of the wordier titles, the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing is more commonly referred to as simply the “Triple Crown”. There are a number of these located all over the world, but the one that we are referring to in this article is that of the US-based one.
This bonus fund is one of the pinnacles of flat racing in the United States and the best horses are often judged on how well they have fared in Triple Crown success throughout their career. The make reason is behind this is the calibre of the races. They include the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. On their own they are three of the richest horse races in the world but combined, they can only be won by some of the greatest horses ever to have run.
What’s interesting about the Triple Crown is that since 2005 there is no prize money attached. Instead, the horses are running for pride and given the vast sums of money involved in each of these races, the money they will win is going to outweigh pretty much all other bonus fund series anywhere in the world.
The Triple Crown has been running since 1950 but given that the three races have been running since the early 20th Century, they have backdated the results to as far back as 1919, with the first winner being Sir Barton.
There is no prize money as it currently stands, although there has been in the past. When prize money first came about in 1987 it came from a sponsorship deal with the American car manufacturer, Chrysler. The deal was a $5 million bonus for any horse winning all three races and winning the overall Triple Crown, but if no winner was found, then they would award $1 million to the horse with the overall best finishes within each race.
Visa took over from 1995 through to 2005. Their terms were that the $1 million would be scrapped and the $5 million for a horse winning all three races would remain. Their 10-year contract ended in 2005 after what they stated as a successful period for both the brand and the sport.
The New York Racing Association decided that following Visa’s deal that they were not getting a big enough share of the revenue given they hosted the Belmont Stakes. As a result, they decided to sell their rights for the race to ESPN on ABC, with both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes being shown on NBC. As a result, no sponsor was found and to this day, it remains sponsor-less. Even though there is no bonus money, the horse that wins all three races will bag over $4 million in individual prize money alone.
What’s the Format of the Races?
There are three races in total and each of them is Group 1 races. The three take place in May and June each year. It kicks off with the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness Stakes and then the Belmont Stakes.
It’s quite unusual for such profile horse races to take place so close together, which adds a little more spice to the Triple Crown. There is often only 2 weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, which even for elite horses, is a short turnaround. It’s one of the reasons why it’s been so tough to win over the years.
What’s unique about the races is that all three are open only to 3-year-old horses. This means that a horse has only one shot in their relatively short career to win the Triple Crown. Here’s a little more on each of the races:
The Kentucky Derby is one of the biggest flat races in the world. It comes with a purse of $3 million, with $1.8 million going to the winner. It’s been run since 1875 and takes place at Churchill Downs Racecourse, which is located in Louisville Kentucky. The caps the end of a two weeklong festival, known as the Kentucky Derby Festival and is tun over 1 ¼ mile.
As a result, it’s the most-watched horse race in America, with over 170,000 fans on race day, and 20 million TV viewers. It’s estimated that over $100 million gets wagered on the race each year.
The Preakness Stakes is the second of the three races to be run and is held each year a the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s slightly older than the Kentucky Derby and has been running since 1873.
The Grade 1 race is run over 1 3/16 miles and is a left-handed track. The race is always going to attract the Kentucky Derby winner, but you generally find that quite a few of the horses that ran that race will travel across into this one as well. The purse of $1.5 million is just shy of the Derby, but still one of the richest in the country.
The Belmont Stakes is the oldest race of the three and has been running since 1867. Given that the track measures 1 ½ mile, it’s also the longest of the three and even though distances are similar, the dirt track in New York can run a little slower than the others, meaning that it’s often a bit of more of a war of attrition as a result.
Belmont Park plays host to the race and it’s often known as “The Championship Track” given that it’s held just about all of the big races in America at some point. The race takes places just three weeks after the Preakness Stakes and comes with the same prize money of a $1.5 million purse, along with $800,000 for 1st place.
Winners & Close Calls
Since 1919 there have been just 13 winners of the Triple Crown. Given that all three races are only open to 3-year-olds, there have been no multiple winners.
An odd trend that the Triple Crown has is that it goes ages without a win and then a cluster turn up. It was an 11-year gap between the 1st and 2nd, then plenty from 1930 to 1948, but then it took another 25 years until the next winner in 1973. Again, 3 more in 5 years, before a massive 37 years between Affirmed in 1978 and American Pharaoh in 2015. Justify is the most recent in 2018.
Whilst there are plenty of big-name winners, few can reach the euphoria that American Pharaoh managed in 2015. The horse was hotly tipped to do well, but in 2015 not only did he win the Triple Crown, but he also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Haskell Invitational, Arkansas Derby and the Rebel Stakes.
Following the success, owners Ahmed Zayat decided he could do no more and was retired before being put out to stud following that epic 2015 season. Many horses have gone close, however. In the 37-year drought between 1978 and 2015, 13 horses were on for the Triple Crown but failed to win the last event at the Belmont Stakes. The closest was that of Smarty Jones that finished second in the Belmont by 1 length to the eventual winner, Birdstone.