In order to win the Triple Crown, a horse must not only posses great ability, but they must remain in perfect health, not only during the five weeks of the grueling series, but they must also not miss an oat in the several weeks leading to the first Saturday in May. While superior talent, and good health gives you a fighting chance to do what no horse has done in more than three and a half decades, a Triple Crown winner also needs luck. While it is true, some horses make their own luck, a bit of divine intervention never hurts either. Is it meant to be for California Chrome? We will find out in another 16 tantalizing days. Until then, let these 12 cautionary tales below serve as proof positive that he is embarking on a most difficult task.
(1979) Spectacular Bid - Just one year removed from Affirmed, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Spectacular Bid would become the fourth Triple Crown winner in seven years. A funny thing happened on the way to the coronation, though, as the mighty Spectacular Bid saw his long, dominant winning streak snapped in decidedly unspectacular fashion at Belmont Park. Coastal was a very good winner, but Spectacular Bid was just not quite himself that day. Whether it was the frivolous, downright poor ride he received, or pain he felt from stepping on a safety pin that morning, the 1979 Belmont Stakes proved that the Triple Crown was far from a “just show up” situation, even for the great ones.
(1981) Pleasant Colony - Blossoming in the spring, for his new trainer, Johnny Campo, this son of His Majesty proved best in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, after a big effort in the Wood Memorial. Bred to handle the distance, he looked like he had a great chance to complete the triple when he loaded into the Belmont starting gate. Unfortunatly, being far off a slow early pace, in his third hard race in five weeks, was just a little too much to handle for a colt who was not head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Pleasant Colony made a run at it on the far turn, but Summing, who was far from topnotch, proved uncatchable in the final furlongs, after the slow early fractions.
(1987) Alysheba - Long a horse with unfulfilled potential, Alysheba put it all together on the first Saturday in May, and then did it again two weeks later in Baltimore. His two brave victories over a determined challenger, in Bet Twice, started his journey to become “America’s Horse”. While he kept improving throughout his career to become a truly great horse by the time he ended his four-year-old season, Alysheba of the spring of 1987 was not quite yet the full package he would become. No Lasix, twelve furlongs at Belmont, and a sharp and ready Bet Twice proved way too much for him on June the 6th.
(1989) Sunday Silence - The 1989 Triple Crown was all about the rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. The Californian used his tactical speed and his nimbleness through the field to get the best of his highly regarded rival in a muddy Kentucky Derby, and then again in a fantastic Preakness battle. The power of the Eastern star had been muted by the athlete from the West Coast. But how would that play out for Sunday Silence in final leg of the Triple Crown. The answer would be unsuccessfully. He went after it on the far turn, but the barrel-chested Easy Goer was gobbling up ground on the sweeping turns of Belmont. By the time they straightened out, the decision was over, and this great rivalry would end the Triple Crown at two wins to one.
(1997) Silver Charm - Silver Charm was a helluva horse. He proved that in spades over four excellent racing seasons. Having said that, he had no working margin in ability over talented horses like Captain Bodgit, Free House, and Touch Gold. He won both the Derby and Preakness with the dogged determination of Affirmed. Those great guts almost carried him all the way to the Belmont Park finish line, but ultimately came up just a little short. By the time he finally put away Free House, the peaking Touch Gold was there and ready to kill his run for the Triple Crown.
(1998) Real Quiet - Truly just one of the crowd for his first dozen races, the Fish came to Kentucky finally ready to show his best. Solid wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness thrust him to the head of the class, but in Victory Gallop, a rallying second in both races, he had a true challenger to immortality. It looked good for a long time as Real Quiet and Kent Desormeaux took over on the turn and opened up five lengths early in the stretch. The wire just would not come soon enough, though, and Victory Gallop’s rally was not to be denied. He was only beaten on the last jump, but Real Quiet’s impeding of his rival might have been enough for a disqualification anyway.
(1999) Charismatic - If you thought Real Quiet’s early career was modest, how about this one? After five consecutive losses, he was dropped into maiden claiming before finally winning his first. But by the time he won the Lexington Stakes just 13 days before the Derby, he had turned the corner. An upset winner over Menifee at Churchill Downs, he returned to win the Preakness even more convincingly at 8-1. Finally respected by the time the Belmont arrived, he was sadly injured in the stretch of the last leg. Even before the injury it appeared that his amazing run was going to fall short.
(2002) War Emblem - Speed, speed, speed. War Emblem played a treacherous game of catch me if you can through wire jobs in the Illinois Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness. In a year of modest quality, his speed did well, but it remained a big question as to whether he could carry it all the way in the twelve furlongs of the Belmont. That question became a moot point when he stumbled at the start, never got to the lead, and packed it in long before the 2002 Belmont Stakes was decided, in one of the weaker attempts of a Triple Crown hopeful.(2003) Funny Cide - was a likable New York-bred gelding, owned by a fun-loving crew of racetrack buddies. It was a nice story, and the horse wasn’t half bad either. In the Derby, he was able to get the jump on his main rival, and Derby favorite, Empire Maker, who was probably not 100% in Kentucky. In that one’s absence, Funny Cide made quick work of the Preakness field. Empire Maker, meanwhile, was resting and recuperating, and was ready to fire his best shot in the Belmont. Funny Cide gave it his all that day, but he was no match for a rested and talented Empire Maker.