Following the success of the Virtual Grand National, held due to Aintree’s iconic race being canceled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the US followed suit with a computerized version of the historic Kentucky Derby at the weekend, with virtual Secretariat coming out on top. Horse racing fans across the States – and around the world for that matter – will be able to look forward to the first event in the American Triple Crown this autumn, with the race rescheduled for Saturday 5th September. While the other two legs are not yet confirmed and those that anticipate the racing cards tomorrow are left disappointed with a real lack of sporting action, you can’t help but think a return to normality is on the horizon. In homage to the Kentucky Derby Festival usually coming to a close around this time of year, let’s take a look at the American Triple Crown in more detail.
Inaugurated in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has run interrupted since then, despite the 147th edition of the race being postponed until later in the year. The first leg of the American Triple Crown is often described as “The most exciting two minutes in sports”, as that is the race’s rough duration. Churchill Downs in Kentucky is the home of the famous race and horses are required to run a distance of 10 furlongs.
Last year’s race wasn’t without drama or controversy, as Maximum Security crossed the line first, but was disqualified as a result of interference and causing a near-spill. This handed victory to County House, who had the longest odds of any winner since 1913, at a pre-race price of 65/1. The four-year-old was retired last year, following a series of ailments that prevented from racing in the Preakness Stakes.
The Preakness is the second race in the series and is held at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore. Despite being established in 1873, the race is in its 145th running this year, whenever that may be – but it usually takes place two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and three weeks before the Belmont Stakes. The race is open to three-year-old thoroughbreds who are required to run a distance nine furlongs, making it the shortest race in the series.
Last year’s winner was War of Will, who had been an early contender for The Road to the Kentucky Derby with two wins under his belt. However, he finished seventh in the main race, before winning the Preakness and coming ninth in the Belmont.
The final and longest leg of the Triple Crown is often referred to as “The test of the Champion”, not only because of its length but if a horse has won the first two races, they are in contention to win the Triple Crown title. Established in 1867, the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes is set to take place in June, but of course, it is subject to change due to the current situation. Held on the ‘Championship Track’ at Belmont Park in New York, the race is run over a distance of 12 furlongs and is steeped in traditions.
Sir Winston won last year’s Belmont, also handing a maiden victory to trainer Mark E. Casse in the race. The colt hadn’t qualified for the Kentucky Derby and his stablemate War of Will was one of the early favorites, but Sir Winston defied the odds of 10/1 and went on to win by a length, after drawing clear of most of the field.
Triple Crown winners
In the history of the series, there have been 13 winners of all three races, ultimately being awarded the title. Sir Barton was the first champion in 1919, and since the turn of the century, there have been two winners of the Triple Crown: American Pharaoh in 2015 and Justify in 2018.
Of all the winners, American Pharaoh is held in the highest regard, as the bay made history. In addition to winning the Triple Crown, he also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and that clean sweep of four races was considered a Grand Slam.