The Triple Crown

The Triple Crown is the highest achievement in horse racing. To win the Triple Crown, a horse must win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Only twelve horses have ever won the Triple Crown, in part due to the wide variation of the different tracks and limits on participation. Below is a quick primer on the Triple Crown.

How Long Has the Triple Crown Been Run?



The Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867, the  Preakness Stakes was run for the first time in 1873, and the Kentucky Derby was first run in 1875. The term “Triple Crown” became widely used after the Crown was won for the second time in 1930. The term was borrowed from the English, who also have three important horse races.


Why Is the Triple Crown such a Difficult Achievement?


The Triple Crown is limited to three year old Thoroughbreds, meaning that each horse has only one opportunity to win the Crown. In addition, most elite Thoroughbreds run once a month or so at a track close to home. The Triple Crown requires these horse to run three races in just under five weeks at tracks all over the country. Each track has its own set of conditions. To win the Triple Crown, a horse must be able to handle extensive travel, run in multiple races in a short time, and must be flexible enough to adapt to different conditions at each track.


What Are The Races in the Triple Crown?


The Triple Crown takes place each year beginning in May. Though only twelve horses have ever won the Triple Crown, owners, trainers, and jockeys set their hopes on the Crown every year. Between the substantial prize money for winning each race and the value of the horse for breeding after a Triple Crown win, the elusive Crown is worth millions of dollars and is the goal of many owners.

Types of Horse Racing


There are several different varieties of horse racing. Each has its own set of rules and strategies. Different types of races are also run by different breeds. It is helpful to understand the differences in each type of race to enjoy them more fully.

Flat Racing

  • Flat races are run by Thoroughbreds and by Quarter Horses. Races take place on a level track with no hurdles. Flat racing tests the speed, endurance, and skill of the jockey Flat races are run on either turf (grass) or all weather (synthetic) tracks. They are by far the most common horse races in the United States. The Triple Crown races are flat races.


Harness Racing

  • In harness racing, horses pull a two-wheeled cart, or sulky. There are two kinds of harness racing, trot racing and faster paced racing. Harness racing is not as popular as flat racing, but it involves more strategy in betting and it is fun to watch, so it attracts its own fans.


Jump Racing

  • In jump racing, horses jump over obstacles, such as hurdles, fences, or ditches, which makes it more dangerous than flat racing. In the United States, jump racing is known as steeplechasing. Steeplechasing is divided into two forms: hurdle races and timber races.
  • In hurdle races, horses jump over a series of hurdles, which must be at least 3 ½ feet high. There must be at least eight hurdles in a race, but there are often more. Hurdles are usually made of flexible pieces of brush, which makes it easier for horses to jump than the hurdles used in timber races.
  • In timber races, the obstacles are solid wooden fences that may be as high as five feet. Timber races cover a longer distance than hurdle races and require more skill.


Though flat racing is by far the most popular variety of horse racing in the United States, jump racing and harness racing both have avid fans. The type of horse racing you enjoy most depends on the speed, difficulty, and complexity of the race type. The level of strategy you are willing to employ in betting is also a factor.


The Kentucky Derby


The Kentucky Derby is one of the most storied horse races in the United States. Dating back to 1875, the Kentucky Derby is the longest running sports event in the U.S. The “Run for the Roses”, as the Derby is called, takes place in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May.




In 1872, Meriwether Clark, the grandson of famed explorer William Clark, attended the Epsom Derby in England. Determined to create a similar racetrack in the United States, he solicited John and Henry Churchill, his uncles, to give him the land for a track. He also organized the Louisville Jockey Club to raise funds for the track. The first Derby was run on May 17,1975. 10,000 people gathered to watch 15 three-year-old Thoroughbreds race 1 ½ miles. Aristides won the first Derby and went on to place second in the Belmont Stakes. The track was later shortened to 1 ¼ miles.




“The Run for the Roses”

  • The Kentucky Derby is often called “The Run for the Roses”. This title refers to the garland of roses that is draped on the winning horse. The garland consists of over 400 roses sewn to a green backing, along with the seal of the Commonwealth, the Twin Spires, and the number of races that have been run in the Derby.


  • Women traditionally wear elaborate hats, called fascinators, to the Kentucky Derby. It is unclear exactly how this tradition came to be, but it is theorized that hats were donned because the first Derby was advertised to women’s clubs as a social event. Hats were an essential accessory in the 1870s, and were used to convey status and wealth. Women arrived to the Kentucky Derby in hats meant to show off their status, and the tradition stuck.


Mint Juleps

  • Mint juleps are the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Early Times whiskey sponsors the event and is the whiskey used in the mint juleps that are sold. Mint juleps are traditionally made with bourbon, mint, ice, sugar, and water and are served in silver cups. The drink is popular in Kentucky and became associated with the Derby early on. Premium mint juleps may be purchased at the Kentucky Derby in place of the standard julep for $1,000 These drinks are made with imported ingredients, and the proceeds go to benefit retired race horses.


The Kentucky Derby maintains its status as a prestigious event, due to its history and traditions. Attending the Kentucky Derby is an event that goes far beyond watching the actual race. As the opening race of the Triple Crown series, it stands as a monument to the early days of horse racing in the United States.



Secretariat is the most beloved Thoroughbred race horse in American history. He is one of only twelve horses to ever win the Triple Crown. Among racing fans, his story is legend.



Secretariat was born on March 30,1970 in Doswell, Virginia. He was the offspring of Preakness winner Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal, who was a top-notch breeder. As a two-year-old horse, he won seven of nine races and was the first two-year-old to win Horse of the Year. Before Secretariat’s third year, his owner died and his family sold Secretariat to settle estate debt. He was purchased for $6.08 million, a record at the time.


The 1973 Triple Crown


In 1973, Secretariat won his first two races but placed fifth in his third because of an abscess that was discovered after the race. Going into the Kentucky Derby, speculation was high as to whether his loss was due to the abscess or if he could not rise to the hype surrounding him. His Kentucky Derby win put this criticism to rest with a track record win. Secretariat became the first Derby winner to complete the race in under two minutes, winning by 2 ½ lengths. At the Preakness he moved from last place into first and won again by 2 ½ lengths, but his greatest victory was yet to come. He won the Belmont by a jaw-dropping 31 lengths and set a world record for completing the race in 2 minutes 24 seconds. Secretariat broke so far ahead that cameras had a hard time capturing the gap between him and the second place finisher.


Secretariat Mania


Secretariat’s picture graced the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated in the same week before his historic win at the Belmont Stakes. After his Triple Crown win, Secretariat was named Horse of the Year for the second straight year. America was in love with the chestnut horse who shattered records wherever he ran. At a time when Americans needed a sports hero, Secretariat galloped to the forefront of the sports world.. He was said to transcend both horse racing and sports and became a celebrity.


Retirement and Death


Secretariat retired in 1973 after his second spectacular season with much fanfare. Hundreds of people turned out to greet Secretariat as he began his retirement in Kentucky. Secretariat would go on to sire Lady’s Secret, the 1986 Horse of the Year, and also Risen Star, who won the 1988 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, but no other horse would capture the hearts and minds of the country like Secretariat.


In 1989, Secretariat came down with laminitis, a life-threatening hoof disease. A month later, on October 4, 1989, Secretariat died. Those who loved him grieved for him as a fallen hero. His autopsy revealed a heart that, while healthy, was twice as big as normal. So it is not an exaggeration to say that Secretariat was a horse with an outsized heart who won the hearts of a generation.

The History of Thoroughbred Racing


Thoroughbred horse racing has a long and storied history. Horse racing dates back to 4500 B.C., when Central Asian nomadic tribesmen first raced their recently domesticated horses. Later on, horse racing became known as the sport of kings. Today, horse racing is both a popular spectator sport and one of the few forms of gambling that is legal in most of the world. Thoroughbred racing is the most popular form of horse racing.


Origins of Modern Racing


Horse racing was popular among the ancient Greeks and in the Roman Empire. In the 12th century, Crusaders returned to England with fast Arab horses and began breeding them with English mares, producing horses with both speed and endurance. Noblemen placed bets on races between these horses.


Horse racing became a professional sport during Queen Anne’s reign, and racetracks opened all over England to support multiple races and wagers. Large cash prizes were given to winning horses, making horse racing a profitable endeavor.


Horse Racing Comes to America


Horse racing was introduced to America by British settlers who brought over their horses in the 17th century. The first American racetrack opened in New York. The Newmarket racetrack was named after a prominent racing location in England. The sport did not become popular nationally for another 200 years. In 1868 the American Stud Book was introduced. This became the official breeding registry for American Thoroughbreds.


In 1894 the American Jockey Club was formed to tamp down the corruption that had arisen within the sport. This club was patterned after the British Jockey Club and currently maintains the American Stud Book.


In the early 20th century, the tide turned against gambling of all forms, and bookmaking was outlawed in most states. Interest in horse racing plummeted until 1908, when the Kentucky Derby introduced parimutuel betting. This type of betting pools the bets placed and divides them among those whose horses place first, second, or third. Parimutuel betting became legal in a few states, making racing more popular once more.


Today, horse racing takes place in over half of U.S. states, and many races attract widespread interest. The Triple Crown races and the Breeder’s Cup are the most popular races in the United States today. With its rich history, fast-paced races, and emphasis on betting, American Thoroughbred racing remains a beloved sport.