Heartbreak in the Triple Crown

Real Quiet and Victory Gallop in the 1998 Belmont
Zipse’s Kentucky Derby Daily – Day 64

Can you 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) Undefeated and 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 Baltimore.

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.

Honorable Mention
Risen 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]


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Older Comments about Heartbreak in the Triple Crown...

The majority of people who work daily with them, i.e. horseman's bookkeeper, correctly gave them that title...These are people who came by their careers the hard way often starting in the lowest rungs of their profession and bypassing most formal education....Horses run, riders are passengers.
It is comical to see the comment "pin head rider". The jockey is there for the ride and the horse run. Great horses overcome bad ride. - I wonder who made those comments...
Tim Tam showed signs of lameness and should have been scratched as well. My first Derby colt.
The ALMOST phoniest excuse I have ever heard (saftey pin my arse), with the pin head rider up just did not have it (much Like Swale at Baltimore)....Canonero was ILL, covered in thrush and Majestic Prince was flat lame. Londgen quit as McMahon's trainer after that debacle......Risen Star was just unlucky and Afleet Alex and little too late from Churchill.
I almost put in a little prayer so that Real Quiet would miss out..That and I had Solis and the deep closer, who is in out Hall of Fame.
I believe it will happen again this year. Orb will cruise on saturday, with only Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday challenging. He will then fall just short in the Belmont as he will be defeated by REVOLUTIONARY.
No one mentions Bold Forbes, who would've been the first to wire all 3
The list could be many. How about Swale, Risen Star, Point Given, or A.P. Indy?
Afleet Alex is often overlooked because he did it in reverse. Good call. However I contend I'll Have Another should be on the list. If only because the field for the Belmont was so weak there was no way if he raced he would've been denied. Not even being able to run is more frustrating.
Needles was a monster
I thought Silver Charm lost by a head-bob, not 3/4 of a length. Anyway, Baffert also lost the VISA triple crown $5 millon dollar bonus in those final jumps.
Smarty Jones was a tough loss for me. I felt Jerry Bailey unduly pressured Smarty down the backstretch with a "no chance" runner. In the final yards Smarty just couldn't hold off the fresh Birstone ... Mary Lou Whitney was all class in the winner's circle.
I actually cried when Silver Charm lost!
When Tim Tam won the KY Derby the paper the next morning said, "Silky Sullivan looses", not "Tim Tam wins"
well done..alex was nearest and dearest to me so thanks for putting him up there.
Thanks Renee ... I will look into the Tim Tam footage.
Oh, and Brian, Tim Tam was a great choice as well..if you can find any footage of his Belmont, please share it! I've had no luck.
Thank you for mentioning Afleet Alex!! :)

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