The Belmont Stakes is over, ending a wild ride of Triple Crown races in 2019. Though the American Triple Crown season is over, the Canadian Triple Crown season is about to begin!
Like the U.S., Canada has a series of three races that test 3-year-old horses and define a true national Champion. However, our neighbors to the north have structured theirs in a unique way to make the test even more difficult. Find out what the Canadian twist is on the Triple Crown, what kind of horse has a better chance of winning a Triple Crown in Canada versus the United States, and how Wonder Woman was the key to the 2018 Canadian Triple Crown series.
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The American Triple Crown comprises three races at three different race tracks, each at a different distance: the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs at 1 ¼ miles, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico at 1 3/16 miles, and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park at 1 ½ miles.
To be crowned a Triple Crown Champion in Canada, a 3-year-old Thoroughbred must also sweep three designated races. However, there are some differences from the U.S. version.
Horses that compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont are usually foaled in the United States, but they do not have to be. The Canadian Triple Crown is only open to horses foaled in Canada.
There is a unique twist in the surfaces of the races involved in the Canadian version, as well.
The Canadian Triple Crown comprises of three races at the same distance and even in the same sequence as the American Triple Crown. The series starts with the Queen’s Plate at 1 ¼ miles, then the Prince of Wales Stakes at 1 3/16 miles, followed by the Breeders’ Stakes at 1 ½ miles.
The Canadian series takes place at just two tracks, rather than three. The first and third races are hosted at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario, while the second leg moves to Fort Erie Racetrack in Fort Erie, Ontario.
But in a fun twist, the series tests not only horses’ abilities at different distances, but on different surfaces as well. The Queen’s Plate starts on a synthetic racing surface on Woodbine’s main track. The Prince of Wales at Fort Erie in on a traditional dirt track, and the final leg, the Breeders’ Stakes, is on the Woodbine turf course.
Conversely, all American Triple Crown races are on the dirt, and only two prep races are on a synthetic track. An American Triple Crown winner likely has never set foot on a surface other than dirt when he captures the crown.
The Queens’ Plate is the first and oldest of the series, inaugurated in 1860. The Breeders’ Stakes followed in 1889, and finally, the Prince of Wales Stakes held its first running in 1929.
With the American Triple Crown, the concept did not begin until a horse after a horse won all three races. In the United States, Sir Barton was the first to win all three races in 1919, but the term Triple Crown was not used to describe the feat until a decade later.
Similarly, the Canadian Triple Crown was officially recognized in 1959, but prior to that date, there had been five horses who had captured the three races, beginning in 1932.
Since 1959, there have been seven horses who have won, 12 in total, just one fewer than the United States version.
With three different distances, two different tracks and three different surfaces, the Canadian Triple Crown is arguably as difficult as the United States achievement, if not more so.
In the history of the American Triple Crown, 13 horses have swept these three races, starting with Sir Barton in 1919 and most recently with Justify in 2018.
There have been many near misses as well: 23 horses have won the first two legs but failed to start, finish or win the Belmont Stakes, 18 horses have lost in the Derby only to sweep the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and 11 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont but lost or skipped the Preakness.
Horse racing fans in Canada have been treated to much excitement and heartbreak as they attempt to cheer for a Triple Crown champion. Since the series began, nine horses have won the first two legs but not the third and 17 horses have won either the final two legs or the just the first and third races.
U.S. fans enjoyed a glut of Triple Crown winners in the 1940s (four winners) and the 1970s (three winners) and recently witnessed two in the last four years. Canadian fans enjoyed a run of five Triple Crown winners in four years from 1989 to 1993 but have not had a winner since 2003.
Champions grace the pages of the history books of the Triple Crown winners in both countries, but there is one characteristic shared by the Thoroughbred 3-year-olds in Canada that have swept the Crown in Canada that we have never seen in the states: two of the Canadian Triple Crown winners have been fillies.
We rarely see fillies win or even enter the Triple Crown races in the U.S. Though fillies have won each of the legs of the Triple Crown, no filly has swept the series or even won of two of the three races.
In Canada, not only have multiple fillies won the Triple Crown, it is not unusual to see them enter and win any of the races in the series. The Queen’s Plate alone has seen 38 fillies cross the wire first.
Conversely, three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988. Five fillies have won the Preakness Stakes, but only had done so in the last 95 years: Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Three fillies have won the Belmont Stakes, and Rags to Riches’ win in 2007 was the first Belmont Stakes win by a filly in over a century.
There are some familiar faces among the Canadian-foaled Triple Crown contenders. Many horses that win the Queen’s Plate also make a name for themselves in the U.S. racing scene, including:
Wonder Gadot – The superhero filly was the Canadian Champion Two-Year-Old in 2017, named after Gal Godot, the star of the 2017 film Wonder Woman. She ran second in the 2018 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs to Monomoy Girl, who was a contender for the American Champion Horse of the Year, losing to American Triple Crown winner Justify.
Wonder Gadot traveled from Churchill back to Ontario, where she swept the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales. Her connections opted to pursue races in the United States, including the Grade 1 Travers Stakes against top 3-year-old colts and geldings, rather than start in the Breeders’ Stakes and try to capture the Triple Crown.
Shaman Ghost – The 2015 Queen’s Plate winner was named Canadian Champion Three-Year-Old Colt in 2015 and began a challenging American campaign the following in year. In 2016, he won two graded stakes, including the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. As a 5-year-old, he was second in the world’s richest horse race, the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream. He also won the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), the most prestigious race for older horses at Santa Anita.
Lexie Lou – The multiple champion won the Queen’s Plate in 2014 before winning graded stakes in the United States, but she is best remembered for running second to Horse of the Year California Chrome in the 2014 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar.
If you want to take a mulligan on this year’s American Triple Crown, sign up for an online account with TVG, TwinSpires or Xpressbet and watch and wager on the Canadian version, which kicks off at Woodbine in Toronto on Saturday, June 29 with the $1,000,000 Queen’s Plate Stakes. Get an edge on your summer handicapping by taking advantage of a free account, sign-up bonus, and insight into a possible United States stakes contender who captures the Queen’s Plate at the end of June.