Triple Crown Winners: Ranking the Best Horses of All-Time

Carlos TorresContributor IJune 4, 2012

Triple Crown Winners: Ranking the Best Horses of All-Time

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    Only 11 horses in the 137 years of the Triple Crown have captured horse racing's greatest achievement, sweeping the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

    The horse who achieves this is forever recognized as a Triple Crown winner.

    Although none of the 11 are currently alive, they all still live on in racing history.

    Earlier in Triple Crown history the time between the races used to be shorter, and most of them would even run a prep-race between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

    Nowadays, as horses are bred for speed and not endurance, it would be unheard of to squeeze in a start in another race between them.

    Now is five weeks between the first and third legs. The Kentucky Derby goes first being run the first Saturday of May, the Preakness follows two weeks after and the Belmont Stakes three weeks after the Preakness.

    It has been 34 years since Affirmed won it in 1978. And as we draw closer to I'll Have Another's attempt to join this 11 immortals, let's look at my ranking of the Triple Crown winners.

Sir Barton (1919)

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    Record: 31-13-6-5

    Earnings: $116,857  

    Sire: Star Shoot

    Dam: Lady Sterling

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    John Loftus H. G. Bedwell J. K. L. Ross

     

    He was the first horse to win the Triple Crown, although it wasn't until almost 20 years after that the term Triple Crown started to be used.

    He was winless in six starts as a two-year-old. When he entered the Derby he was still maiden and was expected to serve as the speed-killer for his entry-mate Billy Kelly who along with Eternal were the two favorites.

    But he wired the field in the Derby, and then at the Preakness just four days later. He squeezed a win at the Withers before heading to the Belmont where he toyed with his two rivals, all four races in a span of 32 days.

Omaha (1935)

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    Record: 22-9-7-2

    Earnings: $154,755

    Sire: Gallant Fox

    Dam: Flambino

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    William Saunders James Fitzsimmons Belair Stud

     

    He was sired by 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox. They both have the distinction of being the only sire-offspring to have won the Triple Crown.

    Like his father, Omaha didn't do much as a two-year-old, winning once in nine starts.

    He won the Derby by 1.5 lengths where he went as the second betting choice behind Nellie Flag a daughter of Man O' War and Eddie Arcaro's first Derby ride.

    A week later he won the Preakness by six lengths and then went on to the one-mile Withers where he lost by 1.5 lengths to Rosemont.

    With the Triple Crown in doubt, he won against five horses in the Belmont by 1.5 lengths on a sloppy track joining his sire as Triple Crown winners. 

    The next year as a four-year-old, he became the only Triple Crown champion to cross the Atlantic, winning twice in England before losing by a nose in the 2.5 mile Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Count Fleet (1943)

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    Record: 21-16-4-1

    Earnings: $250,300

    Sire: Reigh Count

    Dam: Quickly

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    John Longden Don Cameron Mrs. J. D. Hertz

     

    The front-running speedster Count Fleet never finished beyond third place in his career.

    He started losing several of his starts as a two-year-old but ended up winning 10 of 15 starts.

    The Kentucky Derby was an easy win for him as he outclassed the field and won on impressive form with Blue Swords second and Slide Rule third.

    At the Preakness the story repeated as he won with ease with Blue Swords finishing second once again but this time eight lengths behind.

    He was entered in the Withers Stakes before the Belmont and Count Fleet won again with ease winning by six lengths over Slide Rule, who had skipped the Preakness.

    Finally at the Belmont, Count Fleet didn't had to face either Blue Swords or Slide Rule. He was left to jog ahead a pair of allowance-class horses and won by 25 lengths becoming the sixth Triple Crown winner.

Assault (1946)

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    Record: 42-18-6-8

    Earnings: $675,470

    Sire: Bold Venture

    Dam: Igual

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    Warren Mehrtens Max Hirsch King Ranch

     

    Assault, 'known as "The Club-Footed Comet" because his right front foot became deformed after he stepped on a sharp object when very young, won twice in nine starts as a two-year-old.

    In the Kentucky Derby, Lord Boswell was the betting favorite, with Assault listed as fourth choice. Assault caught and passed the early leader Spy Song, and drew away to win by eight lengths which equaled Whirlaway's longest winning margin in Derby history.

    At the Preakness he was the betting favorite and he faced Lord Boswell and eight others. He found early traffic problems and lost ground due to it. He had to move earlier than expected and was able to hold off the challenge from Lord Boswell by a neck.

    At the Belmont, Lord Boswell was the favorite in the Belmont Stakes thanks to his impressive finish at the Preakness. Assault bobbled at the start and was still trailing by eight lengths at the top of the stretch. But he closed with a powerful stretch drive catching Natchez to win by three lengths.

    He is the only Texas-bred horse to win the Triple Crown and, unfortunately, when he retired he was found to be sterile so he had no offspring.

Gallant Fox (1930)

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    Record: 17-11-3-2

    Earnings: $572-417 

    Sire: Sir Gallahad

    Dam: Marguerite

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    Earl Sande James Fitzsimmons Belair Stud

     

    Gallant Fox won twice in seven starts as a two-year-old.

    In 1930, on his three-year-old campaign, the Preakness came before the Derby. He won after escaping from being boxed-in and recovering from the lost ground showing an incredible kick in the home stretch.

    In the Derby he won pulling away by 3/4 of a length and at the Belmont he faced the challenge from the two-year-old champ Whichone and Questionnaire which were favored over him.

    He wired the field and won holding off with ease the challenge from Whichone.

    In his three-year-old campaign he won nine times in 10 starts, which included his Triple Crown achievement. His only loss came to the hands of 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy in the Travers over a sloppy track where he finished second.

War Admiral (1937)

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    Record: 26-21-3-1

    Earnings: $273,240  

    Sire: Man o' War

    Dam: Brushup

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    Charley Kurtsinger George Conway Samuel D. Riddle

     

    Nowadays he might be mostly known for being portrait in the movie 'Seabiscuit' as this huge villain horse that was challenged by the smaller Seabiscuit. In reality they were both the same height and Seabiscuit outweighed War Admiral. 

    But before he was the villain he was the hero in horse racing. He won all three Triple Crown races wire-to-wire.

    In the Derby he delayed the start for eight minutes and when the starter finally sent off the 20-horse field, War Admiral took the lead and never looked back winning by one and three quarters lengths topping the two-year-old champ Pompoon.

    In the Preakness, Pompoon presented a formidable challenge to War Admiral as he caught up with him at the top of the stretch and gave fans a thrilling battle before giving way to War Admiral at the wire.

    In the Belmont he again delayed the start, then bobbled at the start and got a cut on his right heel. Despite all this War Admiral wired the field and tied the distance record of 2:28.60.

    As a four-year-old he went perfect in eight starts and his only blemish was his loss to Seabiscuit in the Pimlico Special match race.

Whirlaway (1941)

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    Record: 60-32-15-9

    Earnings: $561,161

    Sire: Blenheim (GB)

    Dam: Dustwhirl

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones Calumet Farm

     

    He was known to the fans as "The Flying Tail" and was a powerful deep closer.

    As a two-year-old he was hit in the eye by debris in the Hopeful Stakes during one of the turns and he started fearing the inner rail.

    On his last two starts before the Derby, at the Blue Grass Stakes and the Derby Trial, Whirlaway ran wide in the stretch, and it cost him the win both times. 

    His trainer made an arrangement prior to the Derby with a one-eye blinker and the rest is history. Ridden by Eddie Arcaro, he got to the lead at the top of the stretch and pulled away to win by eight lengths.

    In the Preakness he won driving away by 5.5 lengths and the Belmont by 2.5 lengths.

    He continued to race until he entered the Calumet Farm as a stud at six-years-old.

Affirmed (1978)

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    Record: 29-22-5-1

    Earnings: $2,887,999 

    Sire: Exclusive Native

    Dam: Won't Tell You

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    Steve Cauthen Lazaro S. Barrera Harbor View Farm

     

    Affirmed is known for breaking the heart of the valiant Alydar in all three Triple Crown races and bringing to stardom his teenage jockey Steve "The Kid" Cauthen.

    Both horses gave fans the thrill of a lifetime as they fought gallantly with Affirmed getting the win every time during the Triple Crown.

    Affirmed won seven times in nine starts as a two-year-old. 

    In the Kentucky Derby, Affirmed ran third early on as Sensitive Prince set a fast early pace. Later he went by Believe It to take the lead at the top of the stretch. Alydar closed fast late but all he could muster was passing Believe It for second place as Affirmed won by 1.5 lengths.

    In the Preakness, Alydar met Affirmed earlier in the race as Affirmed took the lead around the half-mile pole. Alydar had been running just five lengths off the pace and engaged Affirmed as they turned for home. They battled to the wire with Affirmed holding on by a neck and Believe it finishing third again.

    At the Belmont Stakes Affirmed took the early lead, but this time Alydar engaged the battle with his rival with more than a half-mile left to run. They fought to the end exchanging leads along the way but at the end Affirmed won by head as the fans roared through the home stretch.

Seattle Slew (1977)

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    Record: 17-14-2-0

    Earnings: $1,208,726

    Sire: Bold Reasoning

    Dam: My Charmer

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    Jean Cruguet William Turner, Jr. Karen L. Taylor

     

    Seattle Slew has been the only horse to win the Triple Crown while being undefeated.

    He started just three times as a two-year-old, winning all three times. As a three-year-old he would then run three more times before facing his biggest test at the Kentucky Derby.

    In the Derby, his jockey Jean Cruguet nearly lost his seat when Seattle Slew hit his face
    on the starting gate at the break giving For the Moment the opportunity to grab the early lead. 

    Despite this, he recovered to take the lead within the first quarter and never looked back en route to an impressive win.

    Two weeks at the Preakness, Seattle Slew dominated the race again impressively even after running the fastest opening mile in race history while defeating Iron Constitution, Run Dusty Run and J.O. Tobin.

    The came the 'Test of a Champion' with the Belmont Stakes. But once again he wired the field in impressive fashion and became the first Triple Crown winner to remain undefeated through the classics, a feat that still stands to this date.

    He went 14-for-17 during his glorious career and has been the most successful of the 11 Triple Crown winners as a sire.

Citation (1948)

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    Record: 45-32-10-2

    Earnings: $1,085,760  

    Sire: Bull Lea

    Dam: Hydroplane (GB)

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones Calumet Farm

     

    "The Big Cy" won eight of nine starts as a two-year-old.

    When he reached the Kentucky Derby, his biggest challenger would be his stablemate Coaltown. Their success reduced the field to only four challengers to the Calumet Farm powerhouse entry.

    During the race at the half-mile pole, Coaltown led by six lengths, and right there Eddie Arcaro went to work on Citation and he went by him as the reach the top of the stretch and won with ease by 3.5 lengths.

    At the Preakness, Citation once again was impressive but this time he led wire-to-wire en route to a 5.5 lengths win over Vulcan's Forge.

    All that was left for him was the Belmont Stakes. But before that he made a an 11-length win in the Jersey Stakes his prep-race for the Test of a Champion.

    Even through all his success there were doubts about his stamina. But when Citation opened his lead in the homestretch and won by eight lengths all doubts were erased.

    He tied Count Fleet's stakes record of 2:28.20 and had easily swept the 1948 Triple Crown with his winning margins in the three races totaling 17 lengths.

Secretariat (1973)

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    Record: 21-16-3-1

    Earnings: $1,316,808  

    Sire: Bold Ruler

    Dam: Somethingroyal

    Jockey Trainer Owner
    Ron Turcotte Lucien Laurin Meadow Stable

     

    We all know the story about Secretariat; it's even been made into a movie. Along with Man o' War, he is considered to be the best horse of all time. Even ESPN counted Secretariat as on of the Top 50 Athletes of the 20th Century during their countdown in 1999.

    As a two-year-old, he won six of eight starts, with one being via disqualification at the Champagne Stakes.

    As a three-year-old, he lost to Sham at the Wood Memorial and many started considering Sham as the top pick for the Derby.

    But when the Derby came along, Secretariat turned in the most impressive race in Derby history. He broke the distance record and did it after running each quarter-mile faster than the previous one.

    That record still stands today, and as a matter of fact only Monarchos in 2001 has been able to crack the two-miute barrier.

    At the Preakness, Secretariat once again beat Sham who finished second. The final time on this race sparked controversy as there was a difference between DRF clockers, the hand-time and the teletimer. At the end the hand-time of 1:54.40 was the official one.

    Then in the Belmont Stakes, with only four challengers including Sham, Secretariat went for the lead alongside Sham. By the half-mile pole Sham was out of it and Secretariat started widening his lead. 

    At the end he would win by 31 lengths (breaking Count Fleet's margin-of-victory record set in 1943, when he won by 25 lengths), and also ran the fastest 1.5 miles in 2:24 flat, which breaking the stakes record by more than two seconds.

    To this date, his performances on the Triple Crown remain the highest standard for excellence.