Photo above: Jefferson Memorial. Right: Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., 2016. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
U.S. Timeline - The 2010s
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Detail - 2015
June 6, 2015 - American Pharoah becomes the first horse in thirty-seven years to win the Triple Crown of horse racing with his victory in the Belmont Stakes.
It had been a long time since the last horse had won the Triple Crown, that being Affirmed in 1978. Thirteen horses had tried in that interim, winning the first two races at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, but failing when they came north to Belmont Park. So for thirty-seven years the horse racing public had longed for another great horse capable of winning those races in barely over one month's span of time. That would be the longest drought in history since the term Triple Crown was coined in 1930 at the time of its second achievement. The drought, however, was not the longest if you count the time between the inception of the last of the Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby, in 1875, and the first time a horse won all three in one year, Sir Barton in 1919. It is likely, however, but we do not know for certain, that relatively few horses attempted the Triple Crown feat in the year between 1875 and 1919 than would occur in subsequent decades.
American Pharoah had won two races as a two year old after finishing fifth in his debut. He was, however, voted two year old of the year in 2014 and entered the three year old Triple Crown season as one of the favorites in the upcoming races. After winning the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, he entered the Kentucky Derby as a 2.9 to 1 favorite in the eighteen horse field. He would win that race on May 2 in 2:03.02, winning by only one length. At the Preakness on May 16, American Pharoah was also installed as the favorite, and won the race by seven lengths on a muddy track in 1:59.45. On June 6, 2015, as a 3-5 morning line favorite and the only horse to have raced all three of the Triple Crown races, American Pharoah became the 12th Triple Crown winner in 2:26.65 by five and one half lengths.
American Pharoah would only be raced three more times before retirement to stud after the Breeders' Cup Classic on October 31, 2015. He would win the Haskell Invitational in his first time out since the Belmont for his eighth win in a row, lose the Travers, then win the Breeder's Cup Classic in his last race. Overall, American Pharoah won nine of his eleven races, with one second, and one fifth.
History of the Triple Crown Races
The Belmont Stakes, although currently held as the last of the three events, is the oldest Triple Crown race. It was begun in 1867 on June 6 at Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx, New York. The track had been opened the year before by stock market trader Leonard Jerome and the race named after August Belmont, Sr., a New York politician and socialite who had financed the track. The race was won by the filly Ruthless in 3:05. Belmont Park was first used for the race in 1905. Current record dates all the way back to 1973 when the horse Secretariat won his Triple Crown. The record of 2:24 still stands as the best mile and one half time on dirt in history.
The second of the Triple Crown races is the Preakness Stakes held in Baltimore, Maryland. It was first run on May 27, 1873 at a mile and one half distance at Pimlico Race Course, won in 2:43 by the horse Survivor. The distance for the Preakness has had several changes since its inception, and there have been some years when the race was contested outside Pimlico, but has been run at a mile and 3/16 since 1925 and at Pimlico yearly since 1909. Secretariat, after some controversy about the timing of his race in 1973, which had been recorded at different times by various clockers, is now credited with the record at 1:53.
The Kentucky Derby is the youngest of the Triple Crown races, held each year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The first running of the Kentucky Derby occurred on May 17, 1875, with the horse Aristedes timing out at 2:37.75 for a mile and one half. The Kentucky Derby today is run at a mile and one quarter; running at that distance began in 1896. The record for the Kentucky Derby at its current distance is also held by Secretariat, who in 1973 crossed the finish line in 1:59.40. Note that Secretariat ran each successive quarter of the race in a faster than the previous quarter's time, a very unique pattern.
Yes, Secretariat, over forty-five years later, still holds the record time in all Triple Crown races.
Triple Crown Winners
Although it had taken thirty-seven years for another Triple Crown champion to be awarded in 2015 with American Pharoah, the distance between the next winner would be only three years when Justify won the Triple Crown in 2018. In total, thirteen horses through the 2018 season have been crowned Triple Crown Champions of horse racing. It took forty-four years before the first horse won the Triple Crown, which was Sir Barton in 1919.
1919 - Sir Barton.
1930 - Gallant Fox
1935 - Omaha
1937 - War Admiral
1941 - Whirlaway
1943 - Count Fleet
1946 - Assault
1948 - Citation
1973 - Secretariat
1977 - Seattle Slew
1978 - Affirmed
2015 - American Pharoah
2018 - Justify
Photo above: American Pharoah during the 2015 Belmont Stakes, June 6, 2015, New York Racing Association. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: Churchill Downs grandstand at the 1901 Kentucky Derby, 1901, Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: New York Racing Association; Equibase.com; Belmont Stakes; americasbestracing.net; Wikipedia Commons.