What is the Triple Crown of US Horse Racing?

Photo by Mike Lizzi / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Triple Crown in American thoroughbred horse racing is the most prestigious achievement for any trainer of three-year-old horses. For a horse to win the Triple Crown, they must win the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes in the same season. All three of these prestigious races are generally run between May and early June. The Triple Crown Trophy was only commissioned back in 1950, but eight horses had already achieved the feat prior to its creation. Subsequently, all eight of those thoroughbreds were awarded a back-dated Triple Crown by racing officials.

All three of these sprint races are held on dirt tracks, as opposed to the turf circuits that are traditionally used for Group 1 races in Europe. There’s only one trainer that has managed to train more than one Triple Crown winner; James E. ‘Sunny Jim’ Fitzsimmons trained Gallant Fox and Omaha to Triple Crowns in 1930 and 1935, respectively. Meanwhile, jockey Eddie Arcaro is the only rider to have saddled more than one Triple Crown winner, on both Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948). There was a 37-year wait until the latest winner of the Triple Crown in 2015. American Pharoah not only bagged the Triple Crown, but also the Breeders’ Cup Classic. As one of the most successful three-year-old thoroughbreds of all time in U.S. horse racing, American Pharoah raked in an incredible $8.65m in race winnings.

The Triple Crown is open to both three-year-old colts and fillies. At the time of this writing, no filly has managed to achieve the Triple Crown, although some fillies have won each of the individual Triple Crown events. Between 1919 and 1957, gelded colts were not allowed to run in the Belmont Stakes, although the rules have since been relaxed. Nevertheless, like fillies, no gelding has ever won the Triple Crown as of yet. There have been discussions in the past about creating a filly-specific Triple Crown (with the ‘Triple Tiara’ suggested), but no specific set of races have yet been determined.

The Triple Crown represents an exclusive club of thoroughbreds that have achieved that feat—and there are “Triple Crowns” in other games and sports that are just as sought-after. In the world of professional poker, the game’s “Triple Crown” is a more recent creation, requiring a player to win a World Series of Poker bracelet, a World Poker Tour title and a European Poker Tour Main Event title. Only eight players have managed to achieve this since its inception. Endurance motorsport has its own “Triple Crown”, with drivers competing to win the 12 hours of Sebring and the 24 hours of Daytona and Le Mans. British driver Graham Hill is the only driver to have completed the feat, although Spanish F1 ace, Fernando Alonso, has made it his mission to match Hill’s achievements in the coming years.

There’s no doubt that Triple Crown achievements in any sporting profession are sought-after. It’s a clear indication of an animal’s or sportsperson’s consistency and dedication to his or her craft. Whether we’ll have to wait another 37 years for another Triple Crown in U.S. horse racing remains to be seen; but from a selfish point of view, our generation of horse racing fans will certainly hope that this will not be the case.