Secretariat, with jockey Ron Turcotte, runs at Churchill Downs during the 99th Kentucky Derby in Louisville on May 5, 1973. Secretariat is the 9th horse to win the Triple Crown and holds the record for each of the three races. (AP Photo)
(Meredith) – The Triple Crown is not an easy award to win. In fact, only .28 percent of horses that have entered the races have won the Triple Crown.
The Triple Crown is awarded to a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. All horses must be at least three-year-old Thoroughbreds, but can be colts or fillies. Though fillies have won each of the individual Triple Crown races, none have won the Triple Crown itself.
The three races were run long before the term "Triple Crown" was coined. The term was in use by about 1923, although writer Charles Hatton is widely credited with originating the term in 1930. The Triple Crown Trophy itself was not created until 1950, but was given retroactively to all previous winners.
Although the races are now run in the order of the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness Stakes, then the Belmont Stakes, this was not always the case. In fact, the three races debuted in different years, and the current order has been in place since 1931.
Although the Belmont Stakes is now the final race of the three, it was actually the first race to be formed. The Belmont's first run was in 1867. The Preakness was created in 1873. The beloved Kentucky Derby did not debut until 1875.
Only 12 horses have ever won the Triple Crown: Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), and American Pharoah (2015).
The longest drought for a Triple Crown winner is between Affirmed and American Pharoah with a difference of 37 years. The shortest period between Triple Crown wins was just one year, with Seattle Slew and Affirmed winning back-to-back Triple Crowns in 1977 and 1978.
Secretariat (1973) holds the record time for each of the three races, which is why many call him the greatest racehorse of all time.
There have been 4,224 total horses that have entered the Triple Crown races as of the 2016 season. Of these horses, 292 have won just a single race, 52 horses have won two of the races, and only 12 have won all three, totaling to just .28 percent of entrants actually winning the Triple Crown.
Since all three races were created, as of 2017, 23 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but not the Belmont, 18 have won the Preakness and Belmont but not the Kentucky Derby, and 11 have won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont but not the Preakness.
In 1978, Steve Cauthen became the youngest jockey at 18 to win the Triple Crown on Affirmed. At 43, Victor Espinoza became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown in 2015 riding American Pharoah.
The three races are now run annually in May and June. The Kentucky Derby takes place the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The race is 1.25 miles, though before 1896 the race was 1.5 miles. A maximum of 20 horses can be entered in the race. The Kentucky Derby was shown on national TV for the first time in 1952.
The Preakness Stakes takes place the third Saturday in May at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. The race is 1.1875 miles. A maximum of 14 horses can be entered in the race.
The Belmont Stakes takes place the third Saturday following the Preakness at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. The race is 1.5 miles. A maximum of 16 horses can be entered in the race.
Perhaps the worst incident to ever happen at any of the three races took place in 2008. Just after the Kentucky Derby was ran, second-place finisher Eight Belles (a filly) broke both of her front legs near the finish line and collapsed to the ground. Due to the severity of her injuries, Eight Belles was euthanized on the track. Big Brown was the winner of the race.
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