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Monday Myths: Triple Crown Trios Have Long Been Rare

by Jeremy Plonk

May 23, 2022

The Monday Myths space typically empowers the Betmix database to confirm or dispel handicapping assumptions. I’m going to use this space today to take on a hot-button topic surrounding the Triple Crown. There’s a lot of talk after Rich Strike skipped the Preakness that the series needs tweaked to fit modern trainers and horses’ needs.

The truth is, even in the heyday of the series’ greatest stars, it was never a three-race series widely attended from Louisville to Baltimore to Long Island. Secretariat and Sham were the only two to tackle all three races in the fabled 1973 spring; same goes for Affirmed and Alydar in 1978. In Seattle Slew’s Triple Crown run of 1977, he was only one of 3 to compete in the trio.

Since the new millennium in 2000, only one Triple Crown series has had more than 3 horses compete in all 3 races. To say that there’s a sudden drop in participation across the series would be to assume that previous to recent memory that there was a lineup of runners willing to do so. There hasn’t been. Here are the numbers of horses each year since 2000 to compete in all 3 Triple Crown legs.

2000: 1 | Impeachment
2001: 4 | Point Given, AP Valentine, Monarchos, Dollar Bill
2002: 3 | War Emblem, Proud Citizen, Medaglia d’Oro
2003: 2 | Funny Cide, Scrimshaw
2004: 1 | Smarty Jones
2005: 2 | Afleet Alex, Giacomo
2006: none
2007: 2 | Curlin, Hard Spun
2008: 1 | Big Brown
2009: 2 | Mine That Bird, Flying Private
2010: none
2011: 3 | Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Mucho Macho Man
2012: 1 | Optimizer
2013: 3 | Orb, Oxbow, Will Take Charge
2014: 3 | California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, General A Rod
2015: 1 | American Pharoah
2016: 2 | Exaggerator, Lani
2017: 1 | Lookin At Lee
2018: 2 | Justify, Bravazo
2019: 1 | War of Will
2020: 1 | Max Player * Triple Crown contested in different order
2021: none

In the 21 years listed this new millennium, a grand total of 36 horses have run in all 3 legs of the Triple Crown. Of the 36, only 17 were horses who didn’t win at least the Derby or Preakness to consider sticking around the series and play the hot hand. So unless you’re on a roll, only 17 other horses have tried all 3 legs while chugging along to try and garner a coveted Triple Crown win.

And, yet, the Triple Crown races have blossomed with record handles in recent years, sterling pre-pandemic attendance figures and a strength those ‘glory’ years would have fawned over. Sure, there was a time when 5-6 horses ran the entire series, but it hasn't been consistently that deep over decades. To say the Triple Crown series 'needs' horses to run in all 3 legs is neither historically accurate or proven out by the business figures.