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Zipse At The Track

The Triple Crown: Close But No Cigar


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.

(2004) Smarty Jones  - From modest beginning that rival those of California Chrome, came this hugely popular colt from Philadelphia. A smart score in the Kentucky Derby verified his class, and then a romping win in the Preakness elevated him to rock star status. His Belmont Stakes run, and ultimate defeat, was as gallant as anyone on this list. He never raced again, and this was not a stellar crop, but the fan favorite only became more popular in defeat. Used too much too early in the Belmont, he turned away several challenges, before finally succumbing to a strong late rally by Birdstone. We are left to wonder what might have been if he had been able to relax more early.

(2008) Big Brown  - There can be little doubt that Big Brown was the class of his crop. Overpowering victories at Churchill Downs and Pimlico sent him to Belmont as the prohibitive favorite. It wasn’t the quality of the field that ended his hopes that afternoon in New York, but truth be told, we really don’t know what went wrong. Maybe he was feeling the effects of being off steroids for several weeks. Maybe 12 furlongs was just too far, or maybe he just did not have it that day, but seeing a Triple Crown hopeful being pulled up on the far turn was pure disappointment.

(2012) I'll Have Another  - After impressive wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the son of Flower Alley never had the opportunity to run in the final leg, after an injury was announced just one day before Union Rags went on to win one of the slower editions of the Belmont Stakes.



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Older Comments about The Triple Crown: Close But No Cigar...

SJ's legs were like gummy worms in the stretch. Sure, the had similar streaks in their TC run. But that's where the similarities end. He was not half the specimen - in any aspect - that California Chrome is. Enough of the comparisons already!
  • the bid · what comparison? do you understand what you read? no one here was comparing Smarty with Chrome · 1280 days ago
  • the bid · lol · 1257 days ago
Mods^ cheap plug.
Go CALIFORNIA CHROME :) DERBY BRED on the App Store. 99c.
the name stuck out of the 20 i tried
I was there for Smarty, He could not lose, but he did, by a horse who was a grade 1 winner at that track, Birdstone finished up the track in The Derby,but he won the grade 1 Champagne atBelmont,ROC was a close 3rd in The grade 1 Champagne, he is the only one that can beat CC...
Well, your name shows how totally unbiased your opinion is... I highly doubt he'll finish up the track. If anything, the other horses will. Chrome has a bigger chance of running a sub-2:26 Belmont than running last.
chrome will never get 1 1/2 will finish up the track and out of the money...tonalist,commissioner,intense holiday...CC wont relish 12 furlongs..breedings just not there...IMO
Northern Dancer, Tim Tam, Majestic Prince, Canonero II...some of my favorites
these are the 12 reasons he will not win, if he wins, we will not be reminded of these 12 great horses and their stories, I love hearing about their triple crown run, once a horse wins the TC, we will not be reminded of their greatness, Can anyone tell me of the great near misses from Citation to Secretariat? that was a 25 year drought, and I am sure that there were some great near misses, for all forgotten now
I think Chrome can and will do what they couldnt.
I think Chrome will relish the 12 furlongs,call me crazy but i think he's screaming for a longer distance.
Toss the ones where the main horses ran in all 3 races...I think its hard enough these days for a horse to run 1 1/2 miles after the Derby and Preakness facing a practically full field of freash horses. I think he can do it anyway and if he does it will be one for the history books..
The tripple Crown Winner.
I have a strong enter feeling California Chrome will succeed. He will be the trjpl
There are so many reasons that it has been 36 year since a Triple Crown.
Thanks Brian. Finally a blog worth opinioning about. Speaking of Cigar Jeremy Plonk by way of xpressbet.com said that California Chrome reminded him of the racehorse Cigar whereas Californian Chrome makes his own trip ala Cigar and not racing luck. The horse just wills his own will upon other horses and just wins easily. A comparison to Cigar's racing ability - not to shabby. Otherwise, here it first...just like the Seattle Seahawks whom I predicted would win the Super Bowl by double digits in another venue because they were the better team. Just simple put - they were the better team. Look for California Chrome to win because he is the better horse. Just a simple as that.
i thank he will smoke the cigar bob

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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