Which Horses Have Won the Irish Triple Crown in Horse Racing?

Three Shamrocks in Irish Flag ColoursWhen it comes to flat racing, there are certain races that sit above their others in terms of prestige. Regardless of which country you’re talking about, there are some events that are simply seen as being ones that the owners and jockeys want their horses to win. In the United Kingdom, for example, there are the the Classics, with three of them being so important as to have their own category known as the ‘Triple Crown’ of racing. Many of the sport’s best races have been exported to other countries, so it makes complete sense that they would also have their own Triple Crown.

Horse racing is a sport of traditions. Whilst the Irish and the English might have their sporting differences, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t want to emulate one of British flat racing’s finest accomplishments. Instead, the Irish have adopted it and it is seen as just as prestigious to Irish racing as the British one is in the United Kingdom. In fact, even the names of the races are much the same, mainly the word ‘Irish’ tagged onto the front in order to differentiate them from the likes of the British races or the races that make up the American Triple Crown.

Quick Answer: How Many Horses Have Won the Triple Crown of Irish Flat Racing?

Between 1921 and 2023, just two horse have won the Triple Crown comprising of the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Irish Derby and the Irish St. Leger. The first was Museum in 1935, owned by Sir Victor Sassoon and trained by John Thomas Rogers. The second was Windsor Slipper in 1942 for trainer Michael C. Collins and owner Joe McGrath.

There have been fifteen winners of two Irish Triple Crown races. The latest to do so was Aidan O’Brien’s Desert King who won both the Irish 2,000 Guineas and Irish Derby but wasn’t entered in the St. Leger. Instead, Desert Crown contested the Irish Champions Stakes running the week prior to the St. Leger, finishing second to Pilsudski.

The Irish Triple Crown Explained

Australia at the Curragh After Winning the 2014 Irish Derby

The Irish Derby makes up the second leg of the Triple Crown. Australia (shown above) won this race at the Curragh in 2014. Photo by Florian Christoph, flickr

Much like with the British, the Irish are big fans of their horse racing. Consequently, the sport used many of the same tropes as in the United Kingdom. When it comes to the Irish Triple Crown, the races are pretty similar too. Here is a look at the races that feature in the Irish Triple Crown:

  • Irish 2,000 Guineas
  • Irish Derby
  • Irish St. Leger

As you can see, they bare a striking similarlity to the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger that make up the British Triple Crown of flat racing, at least as far as the names are concerned. In order to win the Irish Triple Crown, a horse much win all three races in the same season. Here is a closer look at each of the specific races:

Irish 2,000 Guineas

First Run Month Distance Course Prize Money
1921 May 1m Curragh €500,000 (2023)

In much the same way as the original 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas were separated by a year in terms of their creation, so too was there a year between the 2,000 Guineas arriving in Ireland in 1921 and the 1,000 Guineas being run there. The first running of the event was won by Soldennis. The meeting tends to be run around three weeks after its British equivalent, with the field for it often containing horses that have also run in the English 2,000 Guineas earlier in the racing season. Right Track won both in 1969, becoming the first horse to achieve this, with others doing so since.

Horses that perform well in the Irish 2,000 Guineas will often go on to race in the St. James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. Several horses have won both of those races in the same year, such as Paddington, who achieved that feat in 2023. Both Tommy Burns Senior and Martin Quirke managed to win this event five times, with the former doing so between 1921 and 1948 and the latter from 1929 to 1941. At the time of writing, that is a record. Similarly, Aidan O’Brien’s 12 wins as a trainer between 1997 and 2023 set a record in terms of success for trainers.

The race is run right-handed over one mile at the Curragh, being open to three-year-old colts and fillies but excluding geldings. The weight for the horses is nine stone and two pounds, with fillies given a three pound allowance.

Irish Derby

First Run Month Distance Course Prize Money
1866 June/July 1m 4f Curragh €1,250,000 (2023)

Known as the Dearbaí na hÉireann in Irish, the Irish Derby is limited to three-year-old colts and fillies. It follows in the footsteps of the Irish 2,000 Guineas insomuch as it is run at the Curragh. It takes place over one mile and four furlongs and is run right-handed. The race, which excludes geldings, has weight information of nine stone, with fillies given a three-pound allowance. Ireland’s equivalent of the Derby Stakes, it tends to take place around a month after the British race. The history of the event isn’t quite as clear cut as you might imagine, insomuch as it isn’t simply an import of its English alternative.

A race known as the O’Darby Stakes was run in 1817, but it only lasted seven years before it was discontinued. The 3rd Earl of Howth, the 3rd Marquess of Drogheda and the 3rd Earl of Charlemont created the modern version of the Irish Derby, with the inaugural running being in 1866. The first running took place over one mile, six furlongs and three yards, but it was extended by nine yards three years later. It’s present distance has taken place regularly since 1872. It took until 1907 for a winner of the Epsom Derby to also win the Irish race, which was Orby in 1907.

Even then the race remained quite Irish-focused. It wasn’t until 1962 that it began to be more respected on the international stage, which was largely thanks to the factor that often makes the biggest difference in anything: money. John McGrath, the founded of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake, decided to combine the sweepstake with the prize money for this race, with the event being re-named as the Irish Sweeps Derby. The increase in prize money saw it attract some of the biggest names in flat racing, including those that had also run in the Epsom Derby.

In 1964, Santa Claus became the second horse to win both races in the same season, with reports that he was pulled along by a group of reindeer proving to be false. It has been sponsored by numerous companies over the years, such as Budweiser and Dubai Duty Free. At the time of writing, it is the main race on the second day of the three day Irish Derby Festival, held at the Curragh each year. More horses having won both races in the years since Santa Claus managed it, including Auguste Rodin in 2023. As with the 2,000 Guineas, Aiden O’Brien is the most successful trainer in the race’s history.

Irish St. Leger

First Run Month Distance Course Prize Money
1915 September 1m 6f Curragh €600,000 (2023)

The only one of the Triple Crown of Irish Racing events that isn’t limited to three-year-olds, the Irish St. Leger is for horses aged three and up. Run right-handed over one mile and six furlongs at the Curragh, horses aged three have weight information of nine stone and one pound, whilst those aged four and over have nine stone and nine pounds, with fillies and mares given a three pound allowance. The race was run for the first time in 1915, at which point it was only open to three-year-olds. Seven years after its debut, Royal Lancer won both the English St Leger and the Irish version in the same season, becoming the first horse to do so.

It took until 1983 for the age restriction on the race to be removed. Since then, there have been several horses that have won the race more than once. Vinnie Roe became the most successful horse in the race’s history when he won the race four times in a row between 2001 and 2004. Horses that do well in the Irish St. Leger will often go on to compete in the Melbourne Cup in Australia. Taking place on the second day of Irish Champions Weekend, it has enjoyed sponsorship from the likes of the Corner Group over the years of its modern running.

Between 1920 and 1947, Morny Wing won the race seven times as a jockey, cementing his place in the record books. Vincent O’Brien, meanwhile, won the event nine times between 1959 and 1988 to ensure he will forever be associated with the race as one of its most successful trainers. We say ‘one of’ because Dermot Weld also won it nine times between 1993 and 2020, in no small part thanks to the fact that he was the trainer of Vinnie Roe. He also trained Vintage Crop, who won it twice in 1993 and 1994, and Search For A Song, the winner in 2019 and 2020.

Irish Triple Crown Winners

As a sign of just how difficult it is to enjoy success in all three races that make up the Irish Triple Crown, only two horses have managed to win all three in the same season at the time of writing.

Irish Triple Crown Winners – 1921 to 2023

Horse Year Jockey Trainer
Museum 1935 Steve Donoghue John Thomas Rogers
Windsor Slipper 1942 Mornington ‘Morny’ Wing Michael C. Collins

The first horse to become an Irish Triple Crown winner was Museum, who did it in 1935. The next to manage it was Windsor Slipper, who won all of the Triple Crown events in 1942. Remarkably, in spite of those two horses achieving their success just seven years apart, no horses has managed it since. It has, of course, only been possible since 1921.

Horses That Just Missed Out on a Triple Crown

In 1922, Spike Island looked as though he would become the first ever horse to win all three when he enjoyed success in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Irish Derby, but he missed out in the St. Leger. In 1924, Zodiac won the St. Leger and enjoyed a dead heat win in the Irish Derby but didn’t win the Irish 2,000 Guineas. There have been others who managed to win two of the races but missed out on the third to claim the Triple Crown.

Dual Irish Triple Crown Race Winners – 1921 to 2023

Horse Year Irish 2,000 Guineas Irish Derby Irish St. Leger
Spike Island 1922
Zodiac* 1924
Embargo 1926
Baytown 1928
Harinero 1933
Primero* 1934
Phideas 1937
The Phoenix 1943
Slide On* 1944
Beau Sabreur 1948
Sea Charger 1953
Zarathustra 1954
Santa Claus 1964
Grundy 1975
Desert King 1997

*In 1924, Zodiac dead heated with Haine for the Irish Derby, in 1934 Primero dead heated with Patriot King for the Irish Derby, and in 1944 Slide On dead heated with Good Morning for the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Embargo won the 2,000 Guineas and the Irish Derby in 1926 but, as so often proves to be the case, couldn’t also add the Irish St. Leger. Two years later and it was the turn of Baytown to come close but miss out thanks to the St. Leger, with Harinero winning that but not the Irish 2,000 Guineas in 1933. In 1934 it was another dead heat, this time for Primero in the Irish Derby, having not won the Irish 2,000 Guineas but going on to win the Irish St. Leger. That was a year before Museum made the record books by winning the Triple Crown for the first time. Two years on and the Irish St. Leger proved to be the nemesis of Phideas, with no other horse coming close until Windsor Slipper managed to actually win all three in 1942.

A year on and the Phoenix won two, but missed out on the Irish St. Leger. Interestingly, the Irish Triple Crown events seem prone to dead heats, with Slide On managing it in the 2,000 Guineas in 1944 before also winning the Irish Derby but not the Irish St. Leger. In 1948, Beau Sabreur became the first horse to fail to win the Irish Triple Crown thanks to missing out on the Irish Derby. That was repeated five years later, this time with Sea Charger missing out on the Irish Derby. A year on and Zarathustra won it and the Irish St. Leger but not the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

In 1964, Santa Claus, who had been the first horse to win the Irish Derby and Epsom Derby in the same season, missed out on the Irish St. Leger to truly go down in history. It took until 1975 before another horse only just missed out, with Grundy winning two but failing to win the Irish St. Leger. There was then a gap of 22 years until Desert King won the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Irish Derby, but opted out of a challenge for all three races with Oscar Schindler winning the Irish St. Leger for the second year in a row. That is the last time that horse has come close to winning the Irish Triple Crown but missed out, at least at the time of writing.