Zipse’s Kentucky Derby Daily – Day 64
imagine coming so close to achieving your most incredible dream only to have it
snatched away from you by the narrowest of margins? The connections of these
ten horses certainly can. I hope you enjoy my Top 10 near misses in Triple
Crown history more than they did.
1. Real Quiet (1998) It looked like it was all over but for
the celebration when Bob Baffert’s rags to riches trainee, Real Quiet opened up
a sizeable lead at the head of the Belmont Park stretch. That lead would not
hold up. The Derby and Preakness winner’s four length lead was methodically cut
down by his rival Victory Gallop, before finally losing the race and the Triple
Crown on the very last jump.
2. Native Dancer (1953) The Grey Ghost won every race in
his brilliant career save one … the 1953 Kentucky Derby. Gaining the entire
length of the stretch, Native Dancer fell a tantalizing short head away from
victory as front runner Dark Star just held him off at the wire. Native Dancer went back
to his winning ways with hard fought victories in the Preakness and Belmont.
3. Spectacular Bid
(1979) One of the
greatest horses I have ever seen seemed invincible as he smoked his competition
race after race through the Preakness. On the brink of immortality, the Bid was
cut down by a safety pin in the hoof the morning of the Belmont. The fast
Belmont pace, the marathon distance, and the talent of the up-and-coming
Coastal, did not help the Bid either as he faded to 3rd.
4. Smarty Jones (2004)
coming off his best race to date in a smashing Preakness win, America’s newest
darling Smarty Jones looked home free as he accelerated to a clear lead in the
Test of Champions. After 31 years it finally looked like we could celebrate a
Triple Crown, that is until unheralded longshot Birdstone turned on the after
burners to run down and run right by Smarty in the final yards.
5. Needles (1956) The stretch running extraordinaire
was able to come from the clouds to get up in the Derby and Belmont, but his
late kick was too late in the Preakness. Sent off at 3-5, he rallied from last
but could not catch Derby runner-up Fabius, who won by 1 ¾ lengths in
6. Silver Charm (1997) The first of Baffert’s two
consecutive near misses, Silver Charm’s great heart was on display as he gutted
out wins in the Derby and Preakness, before seeing his lead at the eighth pole
vanish at the hands of the lightly raced talent, Touch Gold. In the end, only ¾
of a length kept him from becoming Triple Crown winner #12.
7. Afleet Alex (2005) Many thought that Afleet Alex was
the best sophomore in the land, but a late rush by Giacomo was enough to take
the Derby, while Alex faded to 3rd, beaten less than a length. The
result seemed less than accurate in assessing where Afleet Alex stood with his
peers though, as he ran a stunning Preakness where he almost fell and still won
easy, before thoroughly dominating the Belmont with a seven length victory.
8. Northern Dancer
(1964) The great
Canadian colt stormed through America and by the time he won a hard fought
Kentucky Derby he had won 11 of his last 12 races. After a convincing win in
the Preakness, he was made a 4-5 choice for the Belmont. Reported to be a
little less than his best, Northern Dancer made a strong bid to contend before
tiring in the stretch to finish 3rd.
9. Tim Tam (1958) Fresh off an eight race winning
streak, Tim Tam was an overwhelming choice to win the Triple Crown when he
lined up for the Belmont Stakes. Unfortunately the son of Tom Fool ran
erratically and finished 2nd, beaten six lengths. He returned from
the race lame, and would never race again.
10. Twenty Grand
(1931) Lost the
first leg of the series, which was the Preakness in 1931, when he was impeded
and finished 2nd by 1 ½ lengths as the 17-10. The son of St. Germans
went on to prove he was the best that year by winning the Derby by 4 and the
Belmont by 10 lengths on his way to being the dominant horse of the year.
Star, Nashua, Damascus, Little Current, Chateaugay, Bimelech, Pensive, Capot, Riva
Ridge, Majestic Prince, Pleasant Colony, Funny Cide, Charismatic, Bold Forbes,
Middleground, Point Given, Kauai King, Alysheba, Thunder Gulch, Sunday Silence
[For more information on racing's greatest series, please see HRN's Triple Crown Page]