Of the thousands of Thoroughbreds that have tried over the years, only 13 horses have won the coveted Triple Crown. To win such an honor is no easy feat, as horses must have speed, stamina, and perseverance.
The 13 Triple Crown winners defied the odds by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in only a span of five weeks. That’s three races all at different distances at three different tracks, making for the ultimate test. Only the best of the best have managed to win this incredible title.
1. Sir Barton (1919)
|Trainers:||Billy Walker & H. Guy Bedwell|
Sir Barton was the first horse ever to win the Triple Crown in 1919. Despite winning America’s highest honor in Thoroughbred racing, Sir Barton’s career had a rough beginning.
As a two-year-old, Sir Barton lost all six of his starts. Though he showed speed and stamina during workouts, his talent didn’t transfer over to his racing career. It wasn’t until his three-year-old season that his incredible talent shined through.
In fact, at the start of his three-year-old career, Sir Barton played the role of a rabbit horse to wear out his fellow contender Eternal. This was to allow his more famous stablemate, Billy Kelly, the opportunity to take home the win. However, this plan backfired and Sir Barton won by five lengths. His success only continued on from there.
Sir Barton was said to be a grouchy, stubborn horse. The only person that he liked was his groom, Toots Thompson. After his successful season as a three-year-old, he went on to have another successful year racing before retiring to stand at stud. After his stud career, the U.S. Calvary purchased him and he lived out his remaining years at a ranch in Wyoming.
2. Gallant Fox (1930)
|Trainers:||James E. Fitzsimmons|
Gallant Fox’s racing career lasted from 1929-1930. He was sired by the famous French-bred imported stallion, Sir Gallahad III.
The year Gallant Fox won the Triple Crown, the Preakness occurred before the Kentucky Derby. In a span of only 29 days, the bay stallion prevailed to win the Triple Crown. Though there had been previous mentions of the ‘Triple Crown’, Gallant Fox’s victories in the three famed races that year made the term popular.
After his successful racing career, Gallant Fox retired to stud. His breeding career lasted for 22 years at Claiborne Farm.
Gallant Fox is the only Triple Crown winner to sire another Triple Crown winner. His progeny, Omaha, went on to win the Triple Crown only five years after his father. In addition, Gallant Fox sired Flares, Omaha’s full brother, who became just the second American-bred horse ever to win England’s Ascot Gold Cup.
3. Omaha (1935)
|Trainers:||James E. Fitzsimmons|
After a solid start as a two-year-old, Omaha’s career took off just one year later. Following in his legendary father’s footsteps, Omaha went on to win the Triple Crown in 1935 as a three-year-old.
After his Triple Crown victory, Omaha was invited to compete at the distinguished Ascot Gold Cup. As a four-year-old, he traveled to England in hopes of becoming just the second American horse to win this acclaimed race. Despite a valiant effort, Omaha narrowly missed taking home the win, coming in second place.
British trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochfort planned to race Omaha again at the Ascot Gold Cup in 1937, in hopes the chestnut would take home the win. However, Omaha came up lame and was no longer able to race.
Once retired, Omaha stood at stud in Kentucky at Claiborne Farm. Shortly after the beginning of his breeding career, he was turned over to the Jockey Club’s Breeding Bureau in 1943 after failing to perform satisfactorily. He remained at stud for seven years in New York before moving to Nebraska, where he lived out the rest of his life.
4. War Admiral (1937)
|Trainers:||George H. Conway|
As the son of the phenomenal racehorse Man o’ War, War Admiral followed the success of his father. Despite not resembling his sire in appearance, he did in talent.
Though War Admiral had a solid start as a two-year-old in 1936, his career really took off as a three-year-old. In 1937, War Admiral won all eight of his starts, which included winning the Triple Crown. He became a racing icon, as he appeared to be unstoppable.
In 1938, War Admiral met up with his greatest rival, Seabiscuit. Despite a noble effort by War Admiral, Seabiscuit won the exciting one-on-one matchup. Dubbed as the “match of the century” the American people considered Seabiscuit to be the underdog.
Just two races after his Seabiscuit matchup, War Admiral went on to retire from racing. He went on to stand at stud at Faraway Farm until 1958. He sired 40 stakes winners and in 1945 he was named the leading American sire.
5. Whirlaway (1941)
Sired by English Derby winner Blenheim, Whirlaway proved to be a star in the racing scene. Despite being temperamental, he excelled on the race track.
Whirlaway started out with a solid two-year-old season. As a three-year-old in 1941, Whirlaway went on to win the Triple Crown in style. Tied with fellow Triple Crown winner Assault, he holds the record for the largest margin of winning the Kentucky Derby at eight lengths.
Whirlaway had a habit of bolting sharply out of the stretch run. To fix this, his trainer Ben A. Jones devised a one-eyed blinker to shield his right eye. The plan worked and Whirlaway’s one-eyed blinker helped secure his Triple Crown win.
In addition to winning the Triple Crown, Whirlaway also won the Travers Stakes, becoming the first and only horse to win all four races. After his retirement, he went to stand at stud at Calumet Farm at the age of six. He proved to be a solid stud, siring multiple stakes winners.
6. Count Fleet (1943)
After almost having no racing career due to his gangly conformation, Count Fleet proved to be a legendary racehorse. At first, known for his erratic behavior, he quickly showed the world just what he was capable of doing.
As a three-year-old in 1943, Count Fleet went on to have an undefeated season, inducing winning the Triple Crown. At the time, he set a record winning the Belmont Stakes by an incredible distance of 25 lengths. Despite even facing injuries during the season, he went on to win all his starts.
Count Fleet ended up receiving an injury at the end of his three-year-old season that took him out of commission. Though there was hope he may return to the racing scene, his owner John Hertz announced his retirement.
After retirement, Count Fleet went on to have a successful breeding career. He sired 39 stakes winners while standing at stud. Of all his offspring, he had one Kentucky Derby winner and two Belmont Stakes winners. He is part of a three-generation sequence of Kentucky Derby winners, as his sire also won the Kentucky Derby, a feat that has only happened one other time.
7. Assault (1946)
Unlike most stake-winning Thoroughbreds that are sired in Kentucky, Assault was born at Kings Ranch in Texas. However, the Triple Crown winner’s career almost never happened due to a rough beginning.
As a youngster, Assault was riddled with illnesses and injury. He gained the nickname “club-footed comet” due to a deformed hoof that occurred from an injury. Despite all the struggles he faced as a young colt, he managed to find success on the racetrack.
As a three-year-old in 1946, Assault went on to win the Triple Crown. In the Kentucky Derby, he won by eight lengths, tying with Whirlaway for the record. He didn’t let his previous ailments or unique personality slow him down.
Originally, Assault was set to retire after his four-year-old career to stand at stud. However, back at Kings Ranch, he proved to be infertile. He returned to his racing career and competed until the age of seven. He then returned home to Kings Ranch to retire.
8. Citation (1948)
|Trainers:||Horace A. Jones|
Citation became the fourth winner of the Triple Crown in the 1940s, taking home the title in 1948. His success began as a two-year-old and continued on from there.
As a two-year-old, Citation won eight of his nine starts, regularly beating older, more experienced horses. As a three-year-old, he only got better, winning 19 of his 20 starts. He went on to have one of the best three-year-old seasons in Thoroughbred racing, topping it off by winning the Triple Crown in style.
In 1951, Citation became the first Thoroughbred to earn over $1 million in earnings. He went down in history as one of the most successful racehorses.
At one point, Citation won 16 races in a row, a feat that is certainly hard to achieve. After retiring at the age of six, Citation went on to stand at stud at Calumet Farm. He sired several notable offspring, including a Preakness Stakes winner.
9. Secretariat (1973)
As the most famous racehorse and Triple Crown winner ever, Secretariat had a career for the ages. Affectionately known as Big Red, the stunning chestnut became an American icon.
Secretariat had a “nearly perfect” conformation with a well-balanced build and an exceptional stride. As a two-year-old, Big Red won eight of his nine starts. His success only continued on as a three-year-old, as he dominated the racing world.
In 1973, Secretariat won the Triple Crown in incredible fashion. He made history by setting records in all three races, records that have yet to be beaten. In the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat won by a record 31 lengths, making for one of the most exciting races ever.
After retiring from a truly phenomenal career, Secretariat went on to stand at stud at Claiborne Farm. He proved to be a successful stud, siring 54 stake winners. After his death, it was discovered that Secretariat’s heart was 2.5 times larger than the average horse.
Also read: 8 Things You DIdn’t Know About Secretariat
10. Seattle Slew (1977)
|Trainers:||William H. Turner, Jr.|
|Owner:||Mickey and Karen Taylor and Dr. Jim and Sally Hill|
|Color:||Dark bay or brown|
As a foal, Seattle Slew was said to be awkward, with some saying he looked like a mule. However, he grew out of his awkwardness and became noted for his elegant stride.
Seattle Slew started out sharp as a two-year-old, winning all of his starts. His success transferred on to his three-year-old season as he went on to win the Triple Crown in 1977, never having lost a race. Seattle Slew became the first horse to win the Triple Crown undefeated in his career.
In his first race after the Belmont Stakes, Seattle Slew had his first loss, coming in fourth in the Swaps Stake. His success continued on and he went on to secure several more victories. After a notable career, he retired in 1978.
After racing, Seattle Slew went to Spendthrift Farm in Lexington where he stood at stud for seven years. Later on, he moved to Three Chimney Farms in Midway, and in 1984, he was the leading sire in America. He sired 111 stakes winners, including Swale who won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
11. Affirmed (1978)
|Owner:||Harbor View Farm|
Just a year after Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown, Affirmed followed in his footsteps. In fact, the two even raced against each other, with Seattle Slew beating the chestnut in the Marlboro Cup.
As a two-year-old, Affirmed won seven of his nine starts. After a stellar start to his racing career, he began his three-year-old campaign on the west coast. He continued on his winning ways and became the 1978 Triple Crown Champion.
Throughout his career, he had a rivalry with the talented Alydar. The pair met 10 times, with Affirmed winning seven of the races and Alydar winning three. In the Triple Crown, Alydar placed second behind Affirmed in each race.
Affirmed became the first Thoroughbred to suppress the $2 million mark in winnings. After retiring from racing, he went on to stand at stud. He sired over 80 stakes winners, including Canadian Triple Crown winner Peteski.
12. American Pharoah (2015)
After 37 years, the longest drought in Triple Crown history, American Pharoah prevailed by winning the title in 2015. Though he only ran 11 races in his career, the stunning bay took home nine wins.
After placing fifth in his first race as a two-year-old, American Pharoah skyrocketed to success. He went on to win all but one race in his three-year-old season. His Triple Crown win brought on large crowds and lots of excitement, as it had been so long since a horse had won the honor.
In addition to the Triple Crown, American Pharoah also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. This made him the first and only horse to complete the “Grand Slam” of Thoroughbred racing.
After his stellar career on the racetrack, American Pharoah retired to stud at Ashford Stud. In 2019, Monarch of Egypt became his first winning offspring.
Also read: 10 Interesting Facts About American Pharoah
13. Justify (2018)
|Owner:||China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, Starlight Racing, Head of Plains Partners|
Justify became the first horse in over 130 years to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a two-year-old. Though his career only lasted six races, he won all six of those starts.
Ridden by the famous jockey Mike Smith, the 2018 Kentucky Derby was only Justify’s third race. After his exciting victory, he went on to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. He is the only Triple Crown winner to be undefeated in his entire career.
Bob Baffert, Justify’s trainer, had hopes that the bay colt would follow in American Pharaoh’s footsteps to win the Grand Slam. However, an injury to his left front leg ended the hopes of him winning the exclusive title. He officially retired from racing in 2018.
Justify now stands at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky. Though none of his offspring have raced yet, they show the same potential as their superstar sire.