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2013 Triple Crown: The Quest Continues

Birdstone_Smarty Jones 615 X 400
Photo: Timothy A. Clary / 2004 AFP


It’s never a topic that I look forward to diving back into. But, now that the bid for the next Triple Crown is off the table, here we go again. It has now been 35 years since Affirmed was crowned. What that means as it relates to 2013 is that we still find ourselves in the exact same place; a very long drought. 

The first ever Triple Crown champion was Sir Barton in 1919, 44 years after the Kentucky Derby began and the Triple Crown prize became available. Since that time we have seen 10 other 3-yr-olds overcome the “Test of a Champion”. Within these historic achievements however, never has there been a time where so many years passed before we celebrated again. The grueling drought has been tested over the last 35 years but because the riddle has yet to be solved, the current dry spell has now been pushed to 11 years longer than any other.
Ahead of Secretariat changing the sport in 1973 you have to go back to Citation in 1948 to find the last Triple Crown winner. Over those 24 long years a total of 7 horses won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, before they were denied in the Belmont Stakes. What happened next was legendary. Racing against the odds Secretariat was the eighth contender attempting to join Citation but neither the Belmont field nor Belmont Park had a chance at stopping him. Secretariat ruled the day, broke records and left a remarkable story to tell.
But what does this drought, and how it ended, have to do with the current one? It’s not the answer I was hoping for but all I can really come up with is: Not much. After the heart breaking injury to I’ll Have Another in 2012 the amount of horses that were able to claim the first two jewels of the Triple Crown since 1978 climbed to 12. And since eight of those have occurred since Silver Charm in 1997 it probably means that days of old are long gone.
Maybe, but then again…..maybe not. As I mentioned earlier, the ongoing quest for the holy grail of horse racing is not my favorite thing to write about. But despite the amount of close calls, near misses, speculation and doubts, I still believe that it will only be a matter of time before the right horse comes along at just the right time.
Well that sounds pretty easy. Not really. Why it may be rather effortless to hypothesize, we all know that this challenge is far beyond difficult. So, if I agree that it is tougher than any other in sports then why do I think we will see another Triple Crown winner sooner than most? That is a great question, let me tell you why so that you can decide if you agree.
Still to this day I can’t forget just how close it has been. As if three quarters of a length in 1997 wasn't close enough, the following year the quest was rejected by the slimmest margin possible. The gut wrenching defeat that Real Quiet and his connections suffered to their rival Victory Gallop was unforgettable in so many ways. Mainly we can't forget that it was only a nose that separated Real Quiet from joining Affirmed 20 years later. But, the photo wasn’t wrong and the Triple Crown could not be awarded.
Six years later we were swept up in the story that was Smarty Jones. The undefeated kid from Pennsylvania was certainly something special. The more you watched him race and the more he won the more you began to believe that the Belmont Stakes would be his. But again, a close call went the other direction. This time it was a length that denied Smarty Jones from becoming the next but it was that margin that also makes my point.
I agree that there a many valid arguments as to why a Triple Crown champion will not happen within this era of modern racing. From breeding and training, to not racing enough (or too much), to racing surfaces or the amount of time between the three jewels are examples of points that I think are fair. But, when considering them further, along with others that are out there, I still can’t see where they prevented Silver Charm, Real Quiet or Smarty Jones from finishing on the other side of their close calls.
So, my point: If it was only a nose that divided it from happening in 1998 then why can’t it happen in 2014?
My final argument is pretty basic but in sports some really good things can happen with very simple goals. In horse racing, the goal for many breeders, trainers, owners and riders is to be a part of the next Triple Crown. It’s hard for me to believe that the team connected to any recent Kentucky Derby champion didn’t think that it was a possibility at some point along the trail or after they won roses. Whether it was during a day dreaming session (those can be awesome) or just a quick thought, the idea of a Triple Crown may have surfaced.

So, I may be pretty old school in my final argument but I do think if a team wants it bad enough that they can put their heads together and figure out how to pass the Test of a Champion. Again, I won’t disregard how hard that test is. I know it’s a brutal marathon that is rarely raced to such perfection but, with a very biased opinion, I do believe that the mystery will soon be solved. Do you?


Near Misses since Affirmed in 1978 - Belmont Stakes Result

  • 1979 - Spectacular Bid - 3rd
  • 1981 - Pleasant Colony - 3rd
  • 1987 - Alysheba - 4th
  • 1989 - Sunday Silence - 2nd
  • 1997 - Silver Charm - 2nd
  • 1998 - Real Quiet - 2nd
  • 1999 - Charismatic - 3rd
  • 2002 - War Emblem - 8th
  • 2003 - Funny Cide - 3rd
  • 2004 - Smarty Jones - 2nd
  • 2008 - Big Brown - DNF
  • 2012 - I'll Have Another - Did Not Start (Injury)


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Older Comments about 2013 Triple Crown: The Quest Continues...

There will be a 3X crown winner in the next few years... and for a minute, forget about Smarty Jones, Real Quiet and Silver Charm, how about those who lost the Derby then dominated the Preakness and Belmont, like Point Given, Afleet Alex and Tabasco Cat!?!?!?!
After Silver Charm and Real Quiet came SO close I actually thought it COULD happen again in my lifetime but since then considering the way our horses are bred now I just don't see it. I really, really wish I had appreciated it more in the 70's. And had Alydar been born a year later we would have had FOUR TC winners that decade......
I can't see another Triple Crown winner in my lifetime. I hoped Orb would win, not only because he was impressive winning the Derby but also because of his connection to Ruffian, but I wasn't surprised (or heartbroken) that he fell short. I doubted I'll Have Another would win all three races last year, and sadly, I was proven right. Winning the Triple Crown isn't easy. Right now horse racing needs a legendary beast to win the Triple Crown. This animal would need charisma to bring the fans in and incredible stamina to compete in and to win those races. And it would have to be a colt, a glamour boy like Secretariat. As much as I love females like Ruffian, Rachael Alexandra and Zenyatta, they do not get the respect in horse racing that the males do.
You mean all sports? Although Barry Bonds wouldve been a hall of fame player without the roids
The Brown Out would not have been mentioned without overloading with Winstrtol the SAME way that Barrie Bonds was able to hit so many home runs...Funny how it is an accepted fact in one sport and not the other.
I think we will. We would have last year if not for injury so there can be dominant horses. I'll Have Another AND Big Brown were far and away the best of their class. We just need another like them that stays healthy
A relatively meaningless article in that we are always going to be just one horse away from the next triple crown winner. That is basic statistics.
it took 25 years between Citation and Red with two more quickly....You cannot predict these things
I'm starting to believe that it will not happen!
One of the most prominant factors in a Triple Crown is just random dumb luck....It has played a hand in giving a taking many of them
I think it will happen again, actually I thought it would happen this year, but one thing that is a little troubling is that the last two, Big Brown and I'll Have Another, didn't even finish the Belmont. It could be that horses today are not trained for 3 tough races in 5 weeks.
@kay - that quest was more for TV. You will see why if he does answer my question. However, I doubt he will respond.
TV, a jockey cannot make an outclassed horse win, but poor decisions during a ride can make even a great horse lose. Given how few 12 furlong dirt races are run in America these days, how many jockeys have enough experience at that distance to make all of those correct split second decisions to help their colt maximize his performance? zxswordxs, many breeders these days breed to sell rather than breed to race. What brings big money at the sales is precocious two year old speed (as seen in the insane fractions set at the two year old in training sales). Precocious two year old speed does not often go hand in hand with lots of stamina.
I wonder why there is no stamina in the breeding shed? Is it the pedigree or the individual?
Do you often wonder why the names of riders were hardly ever recorded in ALL the history of racing? Don't you realize what they all knew: riders are not that big a factor in a horse's sucess.
the way jockeys ride? has not a thing to do with it at all.....the way that NO stamina is in the breed YES a big factor
I'm afraid I'm a bit more skeptical. I think that the way modern racehorses are trained, the surfaces, and even the way the jockeys ride nowadays all factor into whether we'll see a TC winner again. My vote is no. And near misses don't count...I don't care how many there have been, it punctuates even more strongly how hard it is for a modern racehorse to accomplish this feat.



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About Me

Meet Bryan Brinkmeyer – Chicago, IL


Growing up across the river from the Bluegrass State I was able to spend a lot of summer days at Ellis Park, Henderson, KY. 


In the spring of 2000, I made my inaugural Kentucky Derby appearance and the tradition continues because there is no other city in the racing world like Louisville, KY on Derby Day. 


Although the story of a Kentucky Derby winner is legendary, a champions trail is what The Kentucky Derby Post is all about. The coverage begins when Juvenile season starts and continues until the field is set, the picks are in and the roses are awarded. 



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