Triple Crown Events
The Triple Crown is the ultimate accomplishment in the sport of horse racing, a fact which is true no matter which country you might be visiting. Many people know the American Triple Crown races from the legendary stars who have managed the feat (and those who have come up just short as well). But in actuality, just about every country that hosts horse racing has designated their own trio of events as the test for the greatest native horses.
Great Britain was the first country to dub three different races the Triple Crown. It first was achieved when a horse named West Australian was able to win the daunting trio of the 2000 Guineas Stakes, the Epsom Derby, and the St Leger Stakes in 1853. That captured the public imagination in a way that allowed the concept to spread.
The first Triple Crown winner in the United States occurred in 1919, but the three races comprising the Triple Crown in America weren't really recognized as such until the 1930s. In the meantime, countries from all over the globe that host Thoroughbred horse racing also created their own Triple Crown races to join in the excitement.
The common denominator, no matter the country, is that a Triple Crown is meant to be an extremely hard task for any horse to overcome. When a horse wins the first two races, the excitement builds for the final leg to see if there will be a new winner to join the other legends in that particular location. For the owners, trainers, and jockeys associated with Triple Crown winners, the rewards are great, both in terms of money and lasting renown.
Here are just a few of the countries where Triple Crowns have been created, along with some of the characteristics attached to each.
As stated above, Great Britain seems to be the first country to attach special significance to a horse that is able to win three predetermined races in a single year. When West Australian first managed the feat, the races that were included had already been in existence for about a half-century. That immediately demonstrated the difficulty of the task at hand.
The Triple Crown races in the United Kingdom are stretched out over a longer period of time during the year, from late spring to the end of summer, than their American counterparts. But the difficulty is ratcheted up by the fact that the distances for each race are so dissimilar. The 2000 Guineas Stakes comes in at a mile, the Derby in Epsom is closer to 1 1/2 miles, and the St Leger Stakes is a whopping 1 7/8 miles.
Since modern Thoroughbreds are usually bred for one distance or another, it makes it unlikely that a single horse can manage the three races at the same skill level. Perhaps that is why the British Triple Crown hasn't been captured since 1970 when it was won by the legendary Nijinsky. And before Nijinsky, it hadn't been achieved since 1935.
As a matter of fact, eight of the 15 winners of the British Triple Crown turned the trick before 1900. Whether another winner will be produced is hard to say because many owners are reluctant to put their horses through such an ordeal. Modern breeding fees being as lucrative as they are, preserving a horse's health is incredibly important for the business side of the sport.
|1853||West Australian||Frank Butler|
|1866||Lord Lyon||Harry Custance|
|1897||Galtee More||Charles Wood|
|1899||Flying Fox||Morny Cannon|
|1900||Diamond Jubilee||Herbert Jones|
|1903||Rock Sand||Danny Maher|
|1917||Gay Crusader||Steve Donoghue|
|1935||Bahram||Freddie Fox/Charlie Smirke|
Perhaps no country has been quite so thrilled by the horse racing Triple Crown as the United States. In most years, the attendance for the final event, the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York, is dependent upon whether one of the horses competing has won the first two events: the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Preakness Stakes, in Baltimore, Maryland. Television ratings follow suit.
As mentioned above, it wasn't really until the 1930s when American racing fans first began to talk about the Triple Crown, even though it had been accomplished for the first time in 1919 by a horse named Sir Barton. The timing was great, however, because the 1940s produced some of America's greatest racers, horses like Whirlaway and Citation who won the three races as three-year-olds.
In 1973, Secretariat, the horse that many consider the greatest American race horse of all time, captured all three races, setting records at every stop. His romping win in the Belmont Stakes left fans in awe. To this day, all American Thoroughbreds are trying to measure up to the standard he set.
American Triple Crown racing is also notable for the horses who didn't pass the ultimate test. Superstars like Man o' War and Spectacular Bid came up just one win short of the feat. In fact, a 37-year drought for Triple Crown winners from 1978 to 2015 had many fans wondering if the sport should consider changes to the races to make it easier for one horse to win all three.
The different breeding tactics in the sport make it increasingly rare to see a horse that can handle the three grueling races in just a five-week span. Luckily, American Pharaoh answered the call and became the twelfth American Triple Crown winner in 2015. Three years later, Justify comfortably won all three races. Both horses were trained by Bob Baffert.
|1919||Sir Barton||Johnny Loftus|
|1930||Gallant Fox||Earl Sande|
|1937||War Admiral||Charley Kurtsinger|
|1943||Count Fleet||Johnny Longden|
|1977||Seattle Slew||Jean Cruguet|
|2015||American Pharaoh||Victor Espinoza|
It should be noted that there is also a trio of races held for fillies in the United States comprising the so-called Triple Tiara. This set of races gets far less publicity, and fillies gain more notoriety if they actually compete in and win a Triple Crown race. There are competing versions of the Triple Tiara, which dilutes the impact somewhat as well.
Feeling left out perhaps by the success their southern neighbors had with their own Triple Crown events, the nation of Canada's horse racing leaders devised their own trio of races for that purpose. The Canadian Triple Crown was created anew in 1959. And it is notable for the way that it mirrors the American series in a way but deviates from it in significant fashion as well.
The distances for the Canadian Triple Crown are precisely the same as the races in America. The Queen's Plate at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario, is 1 1/4 miles, just like the Kentucky Derby. The Prince of Wales Stakes in Fort Erie, Ontario, mirrors the distance of the Preakness Stakes at 1 3/16 miles. And finally, there is the Breeders' Stakes, also at Woodbine, with a 1 1/2-mile distance just like the Belmont Stakes.
Where the difference emerges is with the surfaces on which the races are contested. The American Triple Crown is contested exclusively on dirt. But in Canada, each Triple Crown race takes place on a different surface: Tapeta, which is synthetic surface, for the Queen's Plate; dirt for the Prince of Wales; and turf for the Breeders' Stakes.
This mixture of track surfaces makes it particularly difficult, as most horses tend to perform well on one surface or another, but few are skilled on all of them. Yet it has been achieved seven times since 1959. New Providence captured the Crown in its first year of existence in 1959, while Wando was the most recent Triple Crown champion in 2003.
Sydney, New South Wales, is the home to all three races in the Australian Triple Crown series. The series has been essentially in existence since 1935 when the Canterbury Guineas became the last of the three races included to debut. Other races in the Australian Triple Crown are the Rosehill Guineas and the Australian Derby.
Like most of the Triple Crown series in existence, Australia limits the races to three-year-olds only. There was also a change in the series when the Canterbury Guineas was replaced by the Randwick Guineas in 2005. Each of the three races gets increasingly longer in distance as the year passes, making it difficult for horses who might be getting weary from the earlier races to complete the Crown.
Perhaps that is why there are only five Triple Crown winners in Australia's horse racing history. The first was Moorland in 1943. It's a Dundeel was the last to complete the task when he did it in 2013.
France is home to a thriving horse racing industry, with many illustrious races held on French soil. It is also home to a Triple Crown series that hasn't been conquered since the end of the 19th century. Only two horses have won the French Triple Crown: Zut in 1879 and Perth in 1899. The races that are included are the French 2000 Guineas, the Prix du Jockey Club, and the Grand Prix de Paris.
Sha Tin Racecourse is the site for all three legs of the Hong Kong Triple Crown. The races are held earlier in the year than many of the Triple Crowns in other countries. Like others, however, Hong Kong's Triple Crown races escalate in distance throughout the year.
The events in the Hong Kong Triple Crown are the Stewards' Cup, the Gold Cup, and the Champions and Chater Cup, which is the longest of the three. The horses race for big purses, and any horse who is able to complete the Triple Crown is awarded a handy bonus for its handlers to share.
As of this writing, only one horse has ever been able to claim that huge bonus. River Verdon captured the Triple Crown in 1994, just two years after the Hong Kong Triple Crown was first enacted.
One of the notable aspects of the Japan Triple Crown series is the length of the races. By the time the series wraps up with the Kikuka Sho at Kyoto Racecourse, the horses competing have to traverse 3,000 meters, which is nearly two miles. It makes the Belmont Stakes in the United States seem like a stroll in the park by comparison.
The other races in the series are the Satsuki Show at Nakayama Racecourse and the Japanese Derby at Tokyo Racecourse. If you look at the translations for the official race names, you'll see how the races are considered: Satsuki Show is the test of speed, Tokyo Yushun the test of luck, and Kikuka Show the test of strength.
Needless to say, the horse that wins the Japanese Triple Crown must possess all of these qualities in abundance. It has been managed six times throughout history. In 1944, St Lite became the first horse to pull off the feat, while Deep Impact was able to complete the triple in 2005 to become the most recent winner.
No matter where you travel in the world, you're likely to visit a place that holds its own version of a Thoroughbred Triple Crown. Although the details, styles, and tracks might differ, the bottom line is that the races are set up to be extremely demanding. As a result, only the best of the best can overcome the obstacles set against them as well as the competition within the races to become a Triple Crown champion.