Twelve horses have tried to complete the Triple Crown since Affirmed won each of the three US racing Classics in 1978. All have failed but American Pharoah will be the next animal to take on the challenge after adding the Preakness Stakes to the Kentucky Derby in his list of races won this season. The horse will run in the Belmont Stakes in June as the odds-on favourite and in good shape to accomplish the treble.
The US Triple Crown
The Triple Crown is made up of three races for three-year-old thoroughbred horses. Winning all three which can only be done in one season and is the greatest achievement in racing in the United States. The term is derived from a concept in England by which horses of one gender can only win three of the five Classics. Sixteen horses have won the Triple Crown in England dating back to 1853 but not since 1970.
The American Triple Crown is made up of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes run over distances from 1.9 km to 2.4 km. Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown in America from1919 to 1978 when Affirmed won each of the three big ones ridden by Steve Cauthen and trained by Laz Barrera. Jim Fitzsimmons is the only trainer to win two Triple Crowns, with Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935.
Since 1932 23 horses have won the first two legs but could not win the Belmont Stakes. This has happened six times in the new millennium including twice in the last three years. California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year but failed to complete the treble. The result prompted his owner to complain that the race should be scheduled later in the season as those horses going for the Triple Crown are not at a huge disadvantage.
Click here for our preview of the Preakness.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes
American Pharaoh won the Kentucky Derby ridden by Victor Espinoza but the race was marred by excessive use of the whip by the jockey. The horse was the fourth winner of the Kentucky Derby for trainer Bob Baffert and the third win for Espinoza. American Pharoah was sent off the 9/10 favourite for the Preakness Stakes. There was a huge downpour just before the second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico but the horse sloshed through the ground to win the race by seven lengths.
A record crowd saw Bob Baffert complete the first two elements of the historic treble for the fourth time. On each occasion his horse has not got the job done in the Belmont Stakes most famously in 1998 when Real Quiet was beaten by a nose. “It’s tough up there,” said the trainer. “I don’t want to think about it for another couple of weeks. I want to enjoy this – It’s been a great ride so far. American Pharoah is an incredible horse and what ho does is amazing”. His achievements could give the sport a much needed boost.
Baffert has a tremendous record in the major races which are still popular but not a true reflection of the general state of racing in the States. Over 72,000 races took place in 1990 but that total had fallen to 41,000 by last year. Betting turnover has increased but slower than inflation and the foal crop has almost halved. The average field size has fallen from about nine to eight. The record crowds at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness contradicts these trends and although 122 tracks are still open overall crowd levels are in decline.
Espinoza’s Race Tactics
In the warm glow of success Espinoza will believe all is well in the world in his profession. He did not need to use the whip on American Pharoah as the horse imposed his authority down the straight. The jockey summarised the race and his tactics in saying: “I wasn’t going to try to get the lead but I changed my plan after the hard rain and pushed him to get to the front. He broke a bit slow. I didn’t want to get behind horses and get dirty, but once he got to the lead he was very comfortable. He cruised around at high speed”.
Read a full report of the Preakness Stakes by following this link.
The Third leg of the Triple Crown
Looking forward to the Belmont Espinoza reminded the press that he has been in a similar position twice before but War Emblem and California Chrome came up short. The owner -breeder is relishing the opportunity for his horse to make history. Since 1978 four horses going for the Triple Crown have come second in the third and final qualifying race. The same number have finished third, two fourth, one was pulled up and another was withdrawn leading up to the last race of the three. Eight of the dozen have started at odds-on so the bookmakers will be quite happy to take bets on American Pharoah to win the Belmont Stakes.
European odds can be found at British bookmakers William Hill
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