Which Horses Have Won the USA Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing?

Three USA Flags Waving in the WindThe rest of the world might not like to admit it, but the British have provided numerous things that other countries absolutely love. Whether it be football or cricket, there are specific sporting endeavours that the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish have created that have become beloved of nations around the world. Whilst that might sometimes lead to arrogance from the British, especially the English, it is a fact that sports are often better because of us. Perhaps that is best seen in the manner in which flat racing events have been taken on by other countries so willingly.

From the moment that the Classics were run for the first time on courses like Newmarket and Epsom, British flat racing was changed forever. When racing moved abroad, other countries soon began to run their own versions of the races that had become so popular in England. The United States of America is no different on that front, soon introducing its own version of flat races that had become hugely popular in the UK. Three of those races became known as the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing, but winning them has never been an easy endeavour for horses to achieve.

Quick Answer: How Many Winners Have There Been of Horse Racing’s Triple Crown in the United States?

Between 1875 and 2023, thirteen horses have won the Triple Crown in the United States of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. The first to do so was Sir Barton in 1919, the latest was Justify in 2018.

The Fillies’ Triple Crown in the USA is known as the Triple Tiara. The races included have changed over the years but has comprised of the Acorn Stakes, the Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Alabama Stakes since 2010. There have been eight official winners and two unofficial winners up to and including 2023, with the most recent being Sky Beauty in 1993.

What is the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing?

Map Showing the Location of the US Triple Crown Races

Before we take a closer look at which horses have won the Triple Crown in the United States of America, it is worth explaining what it is in the first place. As the name suggests, it is made up of three races that a horse needs to win all of in the same season in order to be considered to have won the Triple Crown. Those races are the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Unlike in Ireland, where one of the Triple Crown races is open to horses aged three and over, the Triple Crown in the US is made up entirely of races for three-year-olds, as it is in Britain.

Here is a closer look at each of the races themselves:

Kentucky Derby

First Run Month Distance Course Prize Money
1875 May (1st Saturday) 1m 2f Churchill Downs €3,000,000 (2023)

Run over 1¼ miles or ten furlongs, the Kentucky Derby is open to horses of any gender including geldings. Male horses have to carry 126 pounds, whilst the female horses must carry 121 pounds. It is always held at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May on an annual basis and is the Triple Crown’s first leg, meaning it is the first opportunity for a horse to make their intentions to win it known. The race itself was founded after Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Junior after he had travelled to England in 1872 and seen the Epsom Derby in Surrey, before seeing the Grand Prix de Paris in France.

When he returned to his native Kentucky, Clark worked with the Louiseville Jockey Club to build racing facilities outside of the city in what would become known as Churchill Downs. The race itself was first run at a length of 1½ miles, before it was changed in 1896 to the length that it is currently run over. A colt named Aristides was the first winner of the race in 1875 and over the years that followed it became known as the ‘Run for the Roses’, on account of the fact that the winner is adorned with a blanket of roses at the end. Known as the ‘most exciting two minutes in sport’, it is the most-watched horses race in the US.

Preakness Stakes

First Run Month Distance Course Prize Money
1873 May (3rd Saturday) 1m 1½f Pimlico €1,500,000 (2023)

Held on the third Saturday in May at Pimlico Race Course in the Maryland city of Baltimore, the race sees colts and geldings carry 126 pounds compared to the 121 carried by fillies. Held two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes was actually inaugurated two years before it. It takes place over 13/16 miles, which is around nine and a half furlongs, and is run on a dirt track. The race got its name courtesy of a former governor of Maryland, who named it in honour of the first winner of the Dinner Party Stakes at Pimlico, who came from Milton Holbrook’s Preakness Stud in New Jersey.

Nowadays, the race is run on the Saturday of the annual Preakness Weekend, which also includes the likes of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. As far as attendances are concerned, it is second only to the Kentucky Derby for sporting events in North America. Tradition said that those in attendance would sing the third verse of ‘Maryland, My Maryland’ after the horses had been called to post, but this was discontinued in 2020. Since 1909, a painter has put the colours of the jockey and horse on the replicas that sit on the weather vane on the top of the replica of the Old Clubhouse cupola.

Belmont Stakes

First Run Month Distance Course Prize Money
1867 June 1m 4f Belmont Park €1,500,000 (2023)

Often called the ‘Test of Champions’, the Belmont Stakes is the final leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in the United States of America. Held at Belmont Park on either the first or second Saturday in June, there is often much speculation about whether or horse will be able to win the Triple Crown if a runner has won the first two races before heading into this one. The racecourse boasts wide, sweeping turns as well as a long home stretch, making for exciting racing. The race is run left-handed over one and a half miles, which is about 12 furlongs.

As with the other Triple Crown races, it is open to three-year-olds and colts and geldings are expected to carry 126 pounds, with fillies given a five pound allowance. When the race was run in 2004, 21.9 million tuned in to watch it, which was the highest viewing figure for it since 1977. It hasn’t always been held at Belmont Park, with the inaugural race actually being held at Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx in 1867, making it the oldest of the Triple Crown events. It moved around in the years the followed, eventually ending up at Belmont Park for the 1905 renewal.

The Triple Crown Winners

Now that we know a little more about the races that make up the Triple Crown, it is time to explore the horses that have managed to win it since the 1875 Kentucky Derby took place and all three races were in the mix for American thoroughbred racing. Here are the horses that have managed to do it:

United States Triple Crown Winners – 1875 to 2023

Year Horse Trainer Jockey
1919 Sir Barton H. Guy Bedwell Johnny Loftus
1930 Gallant Fox Jim Fitzsimmons Earl Sande
1935 Omaha Jim Fitzsimmons Willie Saunders
1937 War Admiral George H. Conway Charley Kurtsinger
1941 Whirlaway Ben A. Jones Eddie Arcaro
1943 Count Fleet Don Cameron Johnny Longden
1946 Assault Max Hirsch Warren Mehrtens
1948 Citation Horace A. Jones Eddie Arcaro
1973 Secretariat Lucien Laurin Ron Turcotte
1977 Seattle Slew William H. Turner Jr. Jean Cruguet
1978 Affirmed Laz Barrera Steve Cauthen
2015 American Pharoah Bob Baffert Victor Espinoza
2018 Justify Bob Baffert Mike E. Smith

Triple Crown Trophy

Affirmed's Triple Crown Trophy

Affirmed’s Triple Crown Trophy. Photo by Jean Ogden, Just Chaos Photography, flickr

In 1950, the Triple Crown Trophy was commissioned and was was awarded not only to the horses that won all three of the Triple Crown races from then on, but also to all of those that had won the Triple Crown before then. It is a silver award that has come to be a physical representation of one of the finest acheivements in horses racing. The trophy was created by Cartier Jewelry Company, with the hope being that that would come up with something that was not just a trophy but also a work of art. What they created was a three-sided vase, each side representing one of the jewels of the crown.

Each side of the vase is engraved with information about each of the races that make up the Triple Crown. After it was created, one was issued to Citation, the 1948 winner. In the years that followed, retrospective trophies were given to the first eight winners in reverse order, with that continuing until all of the previous winners, or their heirs, had been awarded a trophy. Nowadays it is a permanent trophy that the winner gets, sitting on public display in the Kentucky Derby Musuem during the months between races. As well as the trophy, winners also get a trophy and money for winning each individual race.

Close But No Cigar

Two Green Tick Rosettes and a Red Cross Rosette

There have been 23 horses that have managed to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes but missed out on the Triple Crown because they failed to win the Belmont Stakes. In addition to that, there have been 30 other horses that won two of the three events but not all three of them. Here is a look at the 23 that missed out at the final hurdle:

  • Burgoo King (1932): Was lame for the Belmont Stakes
  • Bold Venture (1936): Was lame for the Belmont Stakes
  • Pensive (1944): Placed second to Bounding Home
  • Tim Tam (1958): Lost in the Belmont Stakes to Cavan
  • Carry Back (1961): Came seventh out of nine runners
  • Northern Dancer (1964): Lost to Quadrangle
  • Kauai King (1966): Lost to Amberoid
  • Forward Pass (1968): Lost to Stage Door
  • Majestic Prince (1969): Came second to Arts And Letters
  • Cañonero II (1971): Came fourth
  • Spectacular Bid (1979): Came third, there are numerous theories about why including a young jockey and a rumour the horse had stood on a safety pin on the morning of the Belmont Stakes
  • Pleasant Colony (1981): Came third
  • Alysheba (1987): Came fourth
  • Sunday Silence (1989): Came second to Easy Goer
  • Silver Charm (1997): Came second to Touch Gold by three-quarters of a length
  • Real Quiet (1998): Came second to Victory Gallop by a nose after a photo finish
  • Charismatic (1999): Came third in Belmont Stakes
  • War Emblem (2002): Stumbled out of the gate and finished eighth out of 11 runners
  • Funny Cide (2003): Came third
  • Smarty Jones (2004): Came second, losing out to Birdstone by a length
  • Big Brown (2008): Pulled up in the home stretch
  • I’ll Have Another (2012): A tendon injury saw him pulled from the Belmont Stakes the day before the race
  • California Chrome (2014): Was stepped on by another horse when leaving the gate and ran with an injured heel. Finished in a dead-heat for fourth

Triple Tiara (Fillies’ Triple Crown)

Belmont Park

The Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park (shown above), is currently the first leg of the Triple Tiara. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik, flickr

Though some have come close, no gelding has won the Triple Crown at the time of writing and the same is true for fillies. As a result, there have been numerous attempts to create something on an official ‘Triple Crown for Fillies’, known as the Triple Tiara. At the time of writing, the only official Triple Tiara is the three races that are run in New York: the Acorn Stakes, the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama Stakes. That is the only combination that has remained the same since 2010, but no filly has yet managed to win all three races.

Other attempts at a Fillies’ Triple Crown have seen the race selections change. Originally, for example, the Triple Tiara was considered to be the three races for fillies that took place at Belmont Park, with the Acorn Stakes, the Mother Goose Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks taking the honour from 1957 to 2002 and then again between 2007 and 2009.

In 2003 another variation of the Triple Tiara was attempted, seeing the Mother Goose Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks joined by the Alabama Stakes. The New York Racing Association offered a prize of $2 million to any filly that won all three races, but no horse won it and it was discontinued in 2005. Two years later and the Triple Tiara returned to its original configuration.

United States Triple Tiara Winners – 1919 to 2023

Year Horse Trainer Jockey
1949 Wistful Benjamin A. Jones Gordon P. Glisson, Steve Brooks
1952 Real Delight George E. Arcaro Horace A. Jones
1968 Dark Mirage Everett W. King Manuel Ycaza
1969 Shuvee Willard C. Freeman Jesse Davidson
1974 Chris Evert Joseph A. Trovato Jorge Velásquez
1975 Ruffian Frank Y. Whiteley Jr. Jacinto Vásquez
1979 Devona Dale John M. Veitch Jorge Velásquez
1985 Mom’s Command Edward T. Allard Abigail Fuller
1989 Open Mind D. Wayne Lukas Ángel Cordero Jr.
1993 Sky Beauty H. Allen Jerkens Mike E. Smith

Note: Winners shown in italics completed the unofficial Triple Tiara prior to the formation of the series in 1957.

From the table above, Dark Mirage also won the Kentucky Oaks in 1986.  Shuvee, Mom’s Command and Open Mind also won the Alabama Stakes that year, which is relevant because that became part of the Triple Tiara in 2010 and was part of another iteration of the Triple Tiara between 2003 and 2006. As well as winning the Triple Tiara of the time and the Alabama Stakes, Open Mind also won the Kentucky Oaks in 1989. In 1979 Davona Dale won the configuration that made up the Triple Tiara that year as well as both the Kentucky Oaks and the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

Handicap Triple Crown

Sometimes called the New York Handicap Triple Crown, the Handicap Triple Crown is a series of three handicap races run in the United States of America that are considered to be prestigious enough to see horses actively want to win all of them. Those that do are said to have won the Handicap Triple Crown, although that has been impossible since 2008. That is because two of the races, the Brooklyn Handicap and the Metropolitan Handicap, have been run on the same day and therefore runners are unable to win both. As well as those two races, the Suburban Handicap completes the Handicap Triple Crown. Here is a look at the horses that won all three races when doing so was possible:

New York Handicap Triple Tiara Winners – 1891 to 2007

Year Horse Trainer Jockey
1913 Whisk Broom II James G. Rowe Sr. Joseph A. Notter
1953 Tom Fool John M. Gaver Sr. Theodore F. Atkinson
1961 Kelso Carl H. Hanford George E. Arcaro
1984 Fit To Fight MacKenzie T. Miller Jerry D. Bailey