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Triple Crown Greats

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In 1919 a horse named Sir Barton did something no other horse had ever done. He won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and The Belmont Stakes. The Jockey Club, which is made up of older executive types and have always run the sport of thoroughbred horse racing in this country had been thinking of a so-called Triple Crown, including these three grade one races.

In the mid twenties they made it official. Everyone was excited and knew it would bring in more money. In 1926 the three races became the distances as they are now and so was born the modern day Triple Crown. The only memorable race that took place in the early twenties was a match race between the Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, and the great Man O' War, who won the Preakness stakes and the Belmont stakes in 1920. He didn't run in the Derby that year, since there was really no significance to the Triple Crown. Man O' War only lost one start out of twenty one. He stumbled out of the gate and lost to Upset, whom he would have easily beaten under different circumstances.

There was quite a bit of shuffling going on in the twenties, but in 1930 a very swift horse came along. Gallant Fox was his name and he won the Triple Crown. He also did something else notable. He sired a colt called Omaha, who went on to win the Triple in 1935. This never had happened before or since.

In 1937 one of Man O' War's offspring won the Triple. We all know about War Admiral. In 1938 a match race was set up between War Admiral and his second cousin from California, Sea Biscuit. No one alive will ever know why the two owners raced these two horses at Pimlico for $15,000.00, when they had been offered one hundred fifty thousand to run at Belmont. I have a copy of the original contract between the horse owners and Mr. Vanderbilt, who owned Pimlico at the time.

After Omaha won the Triple in 1935, War admiral was next in 1937, and then came Whirlaway in 1941. Whirlaway didn't show much as a two year old in 1940, but he managed to win the Triple in 1941.

In 1943, the year of my birth, a beautiful Stallion called Count Fleet came along and won the Triple. He was probably the most beautiful horses to step on a track. Meanwhile at Calumet Farms, where Ben Wright was running a successful baking soda business, his sons were trying to talk him into getting into horse racing.

Just before Ben Wright died, the family decided to go wide open into the horse business. They hired the best trainers, the Jones Family, and imported the most famous stud horse in the world at the time, called Bull Lea. He did produce. They loaded Bull Lea onto a barge and brought him from England, right in the middle of WW11. There is still a statue of Bull Lea on the property at Calumet, or where it used to be.

Assault won the Triple in 1946. There aren't many photos of Assault around. I guess it's due to people being excited about the war being over and were taking photos elsewhere. About that time the first group of Calumet horses were coming along.

The Calumet farms had too many three year olds in their stables. When the great muscle horse was coming along, so were his siblings. The Jones were trying to figure out which was the fastest and had the most endurance. It turned out to be Citation, who won the Triple in 1948. An interesting story goes with the period leading up to the Triple that year. Al Snider was Citation's jockey. Against Jim Jones wishes he went on a fishing trip just before the Kentucky Derby in the Florida Keys. The boat, men, and everything, disappeared. The only thing they found was one or two life jackets that drifted ashore. Jones hired Arcaro to ride Citation and you know the rest of that story. After winning the Triple Crown that year, it became very easy for Citation to become the first horse to win over a million dollars in his career. He had no competition. I don't recall the exact number of races he ran alone, but there were some. In most of the others there were only two to five horses running in a given race, so to win fifteen races in a row wasn't a great challenge for him.

Twenty five years later came the Greatest Horse to ever race. There were six names sent to the Jockey Club for Secretariat, before they approved one. I think Ogden Phipps was toying with Mr. Tweedy and Penny over the name, since he was the supposed winner of the coin toss that put Secretariat in the Meadows Stables. Secretariat did so many things it would take a book to write all of his accomplishments. I think the most significant is that he set records in each of the Triple Crown Races that still stand. I know the Preakness and Maryland Racing Assn. did not recognize his record there, but Daily Racing Form had two accurate clocks working that day and they still put his time in their magazine as the record. Secretariat won the Eclipse award and Horse of The Year as a two year old. He ran if he wanted to and didn't even try if he didn't choose to. Turcotte won on him and when he was set down, Eddie Maple rode him, and neither even needed the whip with them. With Secretariat, the whip was just part of the outfit. He won on dirt. Then he won on the turf. Any horse that outran him was later outrun by Secretariat, with the exception of Prove Out, who would never race him again.

In 1977 the Triple was won by Seattle Slew, who was very impressive, in that he is the only horse to enter the Triple undefeated and win it. I believe the Veterinarian who owned him paid sixteen thousand for him.

In 1978 Affirmed won the Triple with his competition being the great Alydar. I think this was the best competition between any two horses ever, even though I question Affirmed's talent to beat Alydar. There has always been a buzz around the tracks about something being awry with Affirmed. Later Seattle Slew outran Affirmed in the Cup as a four year old.

More about this author: Craig J Davenport

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