We are about two weeks away from probably the most well-known event in U.S. horse racing. The Kentucky Derby is the first race in the famed Triple Crown, and only thirteen horses have ever won that honor. Who are they? Let’s take a look at the superstars in horseracing history.
Sir Barton in 1919
In a year marked by the return of World War I soldiers and the suffragette movement, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont stakes saw the rise of Sir Barton, a 3-year-old born in Lexington. He led the Kentucky Derby the entire race and won by 12 lengths. He went on to win the first U.S. triple crown 32 days later.
Gallant Fox in 1930
Coming into a very different economic climate, Gallant Fox was the next triple crown winner in 1930. It was the first full year of the Great Depression after the stock market crash in October of the year before. That year, the Preakness was the first race in the series, followed by the Kentucky Derby two weeks later and the Belmont stakes three weeks after that.
Omaha in 1935
The third horse to win the Triple Crown was Omaha in 1935. This was the same year Amelia Erhart flew solo across the Pacific, and the first Mickey Mouse short film was released in Technicolor. The world was changing fast, and Omaha was not considered a favored horse to win the Kentucky Derby before going on to win it all.
War Admiral in 1937
The 1930s proved to be an excellent decade for horseracing as War Admiral took home the Triple Crown win in 1937. Amelia Erhart disappeared the same year War Admiral became only the fourth horse to win all three races.
Whirlaway in 1941
A few years later, a colt named Whirlaway was the only horse in history to win the Travers Stakes and the Triple Crown. That spring, no one knew Japan would enter World War II by bombing Pearl Harbor in December.
Count Fleet in 1943
Count Fleet was the sixth Triple Crown winner in U.S. History and the Horse of the Year in 1943. The U.S. and our allies were still fighting World War II on two fronts, and rations were in effect nationwide.
Assault in 1946
The only Texas-born winner of the Triple Crown was Assault in 1946. He was an unlikely winner and a horse who experienced several injuries during his career. At the same time, the U.S. was recovering from the war.
Citation in 1948
With seven Triple Crown wins in the 30s and 40s, Citation became the eighth winner in 1948. No one knew at the time he would be the last for more than two decades. Though he was a Kentucky-born foal, his bloodline was primarily from Europe. He won several more races that year and became a well-known horse across the country.
Secretariat in 1973
It started to become impossible to imagine another horse winning the Triple Crown until the horse, who may be the best-known name in all of racing, emerged and won all three races in 1973. Secretariat still holds the record for all three races to this day.
Seattle Slew in 1977
No one knew the 1970s would also be a good decade for the triple Crown, but when Seattle Slew won in 1977, the drought was over, at least for a while. He was the first horse to win the Triple Crown without being defeated in any previous race.
Affirmed in 1978
The following year, we saw Affirmed also awarded the Triple Crown. This Florida Born horse wasn’t the favorite, with most experts choosing Alydar to win. Not only did Affirmed take home the Kentucky Derby, but he pushed through and won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, surpassing expectations.
American Pharoah in 2015
Once again, there has been a long stretch of no winners since the 1970s, and it was a surprise when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015. He also became the first horse to win the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing. He stands at Ashford Stud today.
Justify in 2018
Just three years later, Justify became the most recent winner of the Triple Crown. He was sold at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2016. He became the thirteenth winner of all three races and is only the second horse to accomplish this as well as being undefeated in any other race.
Who will be next?
As much as we love the history of racing, horseOlogy is always looking to the future. Who will be the next triple crown winner, and when will it happen? Of course, you can watch the Kentucky Derby from Churchill Downs on May 6th to see what happens. And visit Goldmark Farm in Ocala, Florida, to check out the Triple Crown Museum.