Winners of the Triple Crown

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A horse and jockey in green silks lead, with two jockeys racing behind.
BetMGM @BETMGM Mar 07, 2023, 4:05 AM

As one of the biggest horse races in the world, the Triple Crown is the ultimate test of greatness in US horse racing and a source of great excitement in online sports betting. Since 1919, only 13 horses have claimed the title of champion by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in the same year. Will there be a 14th Triple Crown winner in 2023? The current favorites are Forte, Arabian Knight and Instant Coffee, but anything can happen between now and the first Saturday of May! Until then, let’s review the victories of America’s great Triple Crown-winning horses.

America’s three greatest horse races

The Triple Crown series for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The first leg is the one-and-one-quarter-mile Kentucky Derby, known as “the most exciting two minutes of sport” and held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The $3 million purse is split among the first five finishers in a field of up to 20, with the winner taking $1.86 million.

The second leg is the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes, held two weeks later at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The race is a mile-and-three-sixteenths long, with a maximum field of 14. Capturing the Preakness after winning the Derby calls for considerable endurance, as the layoff between races is fairly short.

The final leg is the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, New York. The mile-and-a-half race calls for speed, stamina and strength of character. No wonder it’s called the Test of the Champion! Read on to learn more about the amazing horses who put their stamp on it.

Sir Barton – 1919

The first racehorse to win all three races was Sir Barton in 1919. At the Kentucky Derby, he was supposed to set the pace for favored stablemate Billy Kelly, but Sir Barton led from start to finish and won by five lengths. The same happened at the Preakness Stakes, after which jockey Johnny Loftus easily rode him to a victory in the Belmont Stakes in record time.

Gallant Fox – 1930

Jockey Earl Sande came out of retirement to race Gallant Fox. That year the Preakness came first and Gallant Fox was the favorite, winning by a three-quarter length. The champion went on to take the Kentucky Derby by two lengths and won the Belmont Stakes with ease. Sportswriter Charles Hatton of the New York Times coined the phrase “Triple Crown” in honor of this victory.

Omaha – 1935

Sired by Gallant Fox, Omaha was the second favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He took the lead in the backstretch and won by a length and a half, making jockey Smokey Saunders a third-time Derby winner. Omaha breezed to a six-length win in the Preakness Stakes and secured the Crown by a considerable length on a rainy day at the Belmont Stakes.

War Admiral – 1937

War Admiral, also known as “The Mighty Atom” or “The Admiral,” got off to an uneven start at the 1937 Kentucky Derby, where he crashed through the gate and delayed the race by eight minutes. Despite suffering an injury to his right front heel, War Admiral led from start to finish and jockey Charley Kurtsinger cantered him home a length and three-quarters ahead. He stumbled again at the Belmont Stakes but led from beginning to end once again and repeated the feat at the Preakness Stakes.

Whirlaway – 1941

Dubbed “Mister Longtail” or “The Flying Tail,” Whirlaway blasted down the homestretch for an eight-length victory at the 1941 Kentucky Derby, setting a track record of 2:01 that stood for more than 20 years. He got off to a bad start at the Preakness Stakes, but jockey Eddie Arcaro coaxed him into a sprint on the backstretch and he won by five and a half lengths. Whirlaway’s speed at the Belmont Stakes was a comparatively slow 2:31, but that was enough to win in a field of four.

Count Fleet – 1943

Three-year-old Count Fleet was undefeated in 1943. He injured himself leading up to the Kentucky Derby but recovered in time to take the race by three lengths. Count Fleet went on to dominate the Preakness Stakes by eight lengths and jockey Johnny Longden rode him to victory at Belmont Park by a margin of 25 lengths, a staggering record that remained unbroken until 1973.

Assault – 1946

After running a poor fourth behind Rippey, Spy Song and With Pleasure at the 1946 Kentucky Derby Trials, Assault was a long shot to win the Derby. Still, jockey Warren Mehrtens urged him past Spy Song to a historic victory margin of eight lengths. At the Preakness, Assault came from four lengths behind to pip Lord Boswell by a neck. At Belmont Park, Assault came from the outside to drive home and win by three lengths. A sensational Triple Crown!

Citation – 1948

Citation made history by making Eddie Arcaro the first and only jockey to win the Crown twice. At Churchill Downs, Citation powered past Coaltown to win by three and a half lengths. He led from start to finish at the Preakness, beating Vulcan’s Forge by five and a half lengths. At Belmont Park, Citation won by eight lengths in 2:28, tying Count Fleet’s record. Citation went on to become the first horse to win $1 million.

Secretariat – 1973

It took 25 years for the next champion to emerge, but the wait was worth it. Secretariat, dubbed “Big Red,” was arguably the greatest racehorse of all time; his 1973 sweep was a bravura performance that remains unequaled to this day. Jockey Ron Turcotte urged him from the back of the pack to win the Kentucky Derby by two and a half lengths in 1:59, a record to this day. He set another record at the Preakness, winning by two and a half lengths in 1:53. But it was Secretariat’s triumphant 31-length win at Belmont Park that went down as the “single greatest performance in the history of horse racing.” His final time of 1:24 is still unmatched.

Seattle Slew – 1977

Seattle Slew made history in 1977 as the first champion to sweep the Crown with a perfect record. After jockey Jean Cruguet rode him to a one-and-three-quarter lengths win at the Kentucky Derby, Seattle Slew won the Preakness Stakes by one-and-a-half lengths. At Belmont Park, he dominated the field by four lengths before a cheering crowd. As a final gesture, Seattle Slew defeated Affirmed, the following year’s champion.

Affirmed – 1978

As the great-great-grandson of War Admiral, Affirmed was the second choice to win the 1978 Kentucky Derby, but with the help of jockey Steve Cauthen, he beat off a challenge by his great rival Alydar to win by one and a half lengths. Affirmed went on to win the Preakness Stakes by a neck and the Belmont Stakes by a nose to go down as one of the most determined Triple Crown winners of all time.

American Pharaoh – 2015

Next to win the Crown was American Pharaoh, after an unbelievable gap of 37 years. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, 5–2 favorite American Pharaoh raced wide to beat Firing Line by a length at Churchill Downs. He went on to win the Preakness Stakes in a deluge of rain, finishing seven lengths ahead. At Belmont Park, you could cut the suspense with a knife. Was the drought over at last? American Pharaoh proved his greatness with a superb five-and-a-half-length victory over Frosted in a time of 2:26.

Justify – 2018

After American Pharaoh broke the drought, Justify broke the curse – the curse of Apollo, that is. No horse since Apollo in 1882 had won the Kentucky Derby as an unraced 2-year-old, but that’s just what Justify did. He kept the lead through rain and fog at the Preakness Stakes and controlled the Belmont Stakes to finish as number 13 on the list of Triple Crown winners.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.