May 2019

The Best Triple Crown Winners That Never Were

by Jen Perkins in Features category

When we think of failed Triple Crown bids, we tend to think of horses who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but either did not enter or came up short in the Belmont Stakes.

However, almost as many horses that have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown have won the last two legs of the Triple Crown. Denied a win in the Kentucky Derby, many talented horses came back to win the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

True Triple Crown bids

In the history of the Triple Crown races, there have been 23 horses that have won the first two legs of the series, but not the third. Some did not run in the race at all, such as I’ll Have Another, who was scratched just days before the race. Others were, pulled up and did not finish, such as Big Brown and Charismatic.

Still, others ran and completed the race with a gallant effort, only to fall short for various reasons. California Chrome was stepped on coming out of the gate and ran with a small open wound discovered at the end the race. Real Quiet lost in a tense photo finish. Smarty Jones was caught in a fast pace and faded.

We remember these names and stories forever, sometimes more than the Triple Crown winners themselves.

The reverse failed Triple Crown

However, a number of horses were also seemingly robbed of their place in history by not winning the Kentucky Derby and continuing to win both the Preakness and Belmont.

We tend to overlook these horses, if only because they lacked the suspense and excitement we experience during a true Triple Crown bid. But completing the last two legs of the Triple Crown is arguably more difficult than sweeping the first two. In addition to the same travel and short schedule involved with the three Triple Crown races, the final leg, the Belmont Stakes, is a challenging mile and a half race, often against fresh horses who may have skipped the Preakness, Derby or both.

There have been 18 horses that have won the last two legs, almost as many as have won just the first two legs of the series.

No Triple Crown in 2019

In 2019, both the official winner of the Kentucky Derby, Country House, as well as the disqualified original unofficial winner, Maximum Security, have both been ruled out of the Preakness Stakes, ending the Triple Crown quest early.

But we could still see great things this spring. The races that comprise the Triple Crown series are difficult and rewarding enough on their own, and we could see a horse sweep the final two legs.

Champions without a Triple Crown

Let’s take a look back at of the best horses to never win the Triple Crown:

Native Dancer – When we think of horses with extraordinary win streaks, we think of horses such as Zenyatta, Cigar, and the supermare Winx. Native Dancer was one nose away from making this historic list. Foaled in 1950, Native Dancer won 21 of his 22 starts, with his only loss coming at the Kentucky Derby. He was possibly fouled several times in the race and came up a nose short to a horse named Dark Star. Native Dancer returned to win the Preakness and Belmont stakes, among others, and was named Champion Horse of the Year in 1954.

Native Dancer became a prominent sire. He sired Raise a Native, who figures heavily in the pedigrees of champions such as Mr. Prospector and Alydar, and he is the grandsire of Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

Ironically, he is also the sire of Dancer’s Image, the only previous horse to be disqualified from a win in the Kentucky Derby.

Afleet Alex – In 2005, Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby in a shocking upset at odds of 50-1 — sound familiar? Afleet Alex was one of the favorites for the race and weaved through traffic in a strong closing move to finish third. He returned to win the Preakness and the Belmont and was named Champion 3-Year-Old of the Year.

Afleet Alex was the subject of possibly the most memorable moment in the history of the Preakness Stakes. Not unlike the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the horse on the lead in the final turn veered out sharply. However, in the Preakness, the horse responsible, Scrappy T, blew the turn completely and cut off Afleet Alex and his jockey, Jeremy Rose.

In what would be honored as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Moment of the Year, Afleet Alex stumbled in the incident as he clipped heels with Scrappy T, his nose inches from the ground as Rose was thrown over the horse’s neck. Somehow, both horse and rider regained composure, and Afleet Alex went on to win the Preakness in a convincing 5-length win over Scrappy T.

Point Given – Point Given was the post-time favorite for the Kentucky Derby in 2001. A nagging foot issue and a fast pace set him up for failure in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished fifth and out of the money for the only time in his career. The winner, Monarchos, set a final time for the Kentucky Derby that was second only to Secretariat as the fastest on record.

Point Given redeemed himself with wins in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, and to further earn his titles of Champion 3-Year-Old and Champion Horse of the Year, he won the Travers and the
Haskell in the summer after the failed Triple Crown attempt, becoming the first Thoroughbred to win four consecutive $1 million races.

Pillory – Unfortunate circumstances cheated Pillory out of a successful Triple Crown bid in 1922, primarily because the concept did not technically exist yet. Pillory won the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. However, it was impossible for any horse to sweep the series that year: the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were held on the same day.

Even though all three races have existed for over 140 years, the phrase and idea of the Triple Crown as we know it today entered racing fans’ vernacular in the 1920s. In fact, one horse, Sir Barton, had already won all three races in 1919, and though he was celebrated as a champion and stakes-winning horse, it would be years before he was recognized as a Triple Crown winner.

Skipping the Preakness

If Country House returns to run in and win the Belmont Stakes, he’ll join an elite group of just 11 other horses who have each won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. There are some high-profile names on this list, including Swale, Thunder Gulch, and Riva Ridge, whose connections returned the next year to revenge their failed Triple Crown bid with a little red horse named Secretariat.

Either way, racing fans can look forward to some familiar faces from the Triple Crown trail as well as some newcomers. Without a Derby winner to contend with, betting on the Preakness and Belmont this year could be wide open, making for a more interesting handicapping puzzle, even if it does lack some of the drama.

What to Do When There is No Triple Crown on the Line?

Start by looking up the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard and find horses that didn’t quite make the cut, like Sueno, Bourbon War, and Anothertwistafate. Horses that just missed the cut still earned plenty of points by running against horses that made it to the Derby gate, often just missing the necessary points by a nose in a close race.

Do your homework and watch a few race replays online – you can sign up for a free wagering account at TVG, TwinSpires or Xpressbet to not only watch replays, but live streaming video of current races and even bet into track pools.

Watch some of the replays of these races, then watch the Kentucky Derby again as well. This time, don’t watch for the incident in the front, but for the horses that ran better than you expected, made up ground, and negotiated traffic. Find your horse, then use your account to bet the Preakness. Xpressbet is a partner of Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes. Horse players can sign up and earn a bonus of up to $500 and take advantage of their Money-Back offers on the Preakness and more.