By: James Smith
These days, the term "Triple Crown" has been appropriated and applied to any number of sports trifectas, from the rarely achieved baseball feat of leading the league in home runs, RBIs, and batting averages to the more obscure "Triple Crown of Dog Shows" (Yes, there is such a thing). But the most important “Triple Crown,” of course, even in this day and age when the sport has been supplanted by the more populist Major Leagues, is the Triple Crown of horse racing -- the rarely-achieved feat of winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in the same year.
So how difficult is it for a horse to win the Triple Crown? Hard enough that there have only been eleven Triple Crown winners in history -- and none since 1978, when Affirmed did pull it off. Among past winners are some of the most famous horses in the history of the sport, including Secretariat, War Admiral, and Seattle Slew.
Every year, though, it seems like another horse threatens to join their ranks. This year, the horse of the moment is I’ll Have Another, a Kentucky-bred Thoroughbred who has already eked out wins in the Derby and the Preakness. I’ll Have Another has demonstrated a flare for the theatrical: both his victories have come with dramatic, last-minute dashes to the finish, including an unlikely win by a nose at the Preakness. And, given that his main rival in those two races, Bodemeister, won’t be contesting in the Belmont, his path to the winner’s circle, and horse racing fame, seems relatively clear.
Still, history tells us that the Belmont poses a unique problem. Since 1978, eleven horses have entered the final leg with a chance to take home the Triple Crown, and all eleven have failed. The race is longer than the other two and contested on a demanding surface. That, combined with changes in the way that horses are trained, has made it increasingly difficult to achieve the Triple Crown trifecta.
If I’ll Have Another pulls it off, he’ll join the ranks of racing royalty -- and will certainly raise the profile of horse racing, a sport that is usually out of the papers except for these few weeks in May and June when the three major races are run. We’re not holding our breath. But still, wouldn’t it be cool?
We'll find out Saturday, June 9th.
[Pic via Wikimedia Commons -- Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office]