Only 11 horses have ever been success in completing the Triple Crown -- winning all of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Sir Barton was the first to do it in 1919 and Affirmed was the last to do it all the way back in 1978. Secretariat's run in 1973 was the most impressive and most famous, but it's been so long since the racing world experienced that kind of moment.
Of course, there have been some near-misses over the years. Since Affirmed won it, 13 horses have gone on to win both the Derby and the Preakness. Unfortunately, those horses either didn't start the Belmont Stakes, didn't finish the race or simply didn't win. It's a grueling thing to win all three races, and the Belmont is the toughest race of the three. Many horses are too fatigued to keep up the pace required to win it, especially against a field that is often comprised of horses that didn't run in the other two races.
The most famous and surprising of the near-misses actually came from Spectacular Bid in 1979, the year after Affirmed won it. Spectacular Bid was considered one of the greatest thoroughbreds in history, winning 26-of-30 races over his career. It was an odd ride from jockey Ron Franklin, who rode Spectacular Bid hard on the backstretch, wasting a ton of energy and not allowing for any kind of late push. Franklin was removed as the jockey following the Belmont, and the horse went on to win 12 of its next 13 races, with only a 1979 loss to Affirmed blemishing the record.
In 1981, Pleasant Colony had a bad run, as did Alysheba in 1987 -- there wasn't too much of interest when it comes to those losses. In 1989, we got one of the most hyped Belmont Stakes running in history, with Sunday Silence and Easy Goer establishing a firm rivalry. Easy Goer was the favorite in both the Derby and the Peakness, but Sunday Silence won both of those races. When it came time for the Belmont though, Easy Goer took a dominant eight-length victory as Sunday Silence finished in second place. They'd race again, at the 1989 Breeders' Cup Classic, where Sunday Silence made it 3-1 against Easy Goer. Still, it's the one that matters, isn't it?
In 1998, Real Quiet had a four-length lead with a quarter of a mile remaining, but Victory Gallop started gaining and by the end it, we had a photo finish. Victory Gallop had won by a nose. Charismatic in 1999, War Emblem in 2002 and Funny Cide in 2003 all were soundly beaten in their attempts, with War Emblem stumbling out of the gate and the other two fading nearer the end. In 2004, Smarty Jones represented one of the more hopeful attempts, given that the horse received much of the same hype as other horses like Spectacular Bid. Unfortunately, Smarty Jones lost steam near the end, likely due to Stewart Elliott trying to guard against Jerry Baily and Eddington as they entered the backstretch. Bridstone won that race, taking advantage as Smarty Jones faded.
Big Brown in 2008 was a really weird story, due to the horse's trainer committing medication violations and his suspension. Then, Big Brown lost valuable practice time due to a minor hoof injury and was ultimately pulled up in the stretch of the race. In 2012, I'll Have Another did not start the Belmont Stakes due to an injury and most recently, California Chrome simply couldn't keep up with Tonalist in 2014.
American Pharoah will attempt to complete the Triple Crown on Saturday, having won the Derby and dominated in the Preakness. Below, we've got a table with all of the Triple Crown near-misses above, plus those that occurred before Affirmed won in 1978.
|Year||Horse||Performance at Belmont|
|1932||Burgoo King||Did not start (unknown reason)|
|1936||Bold Venture||Did not start (injury)|
|1944||Pensive||2nd to Bounding Home|
|1958||Tim Tam||2nd to Cavan|
|1961||Carry Back||7th to Sherluck|
|1964||Northern Dancer||3rd to Quadrangle|
|1966||Kauai King||4th to Amberoid|
|1968||Forward Pass||2nd to Stage Door Johnny|
|1969||Majestic Prince||2nd to Arts and Letters|
|1971||Canonero II||4th to Pass Catcher|
|1979||Spectacular Bid||3rd to Coastal|
|1981||Pleasant Colony||3rd to Summing|
|1987||Alysheba||4th to Bet Twice|
|1989||Sunday Silence||2nd to Easy Goer|
|1997||Silver Charm||2nd to Touch Gold|
|1998||Real Quiet||2nd to Victory Gallop|
|1999||Charismatic||3rd to Lemon Drop Kid|
|2002||War Emblem||8th to Sarava|
|2003||Funny Cide||3rd to Empire Maker|
|2004||Smarty Jones||2nd to Birdstone|
|2008||Big Brown||DNF to Da' Tara|
|2012||I'll Have Another||Did not start|
|2014||California Chrome||4th to Tonalist|