Triple Crown Trio of the 70’s

Triple Crown Trio

With the Kentucky Derby only six weeks away, which will kick off the annual Triple Crown series, the cream of the three year old contenders is beginning to rise to the top. Fans are in the process of deciding which horse they will be rooting for come the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. Dortmund, American Pharoah and Carpe Diem seem to be the early favourites for the roses, but there could still be another who is not as regarded at this moment that could rise to the challenge and take the laurels.

Then when a winner is settled from the Derby, the focus will shift to Pimlico two weeks later for the Preakness Stakes to see if the Derby winner can repeat or be conquered by one of a myriad of challengers looking to add a classic victory to their resume. If the Derby winner wins the second Triple Crown jewel, then watch out! The possibility of a Triple Crown winner will be on everybody’s mind when the Belmont Stakes is run three weeks later.

Last year California Chrome had a shot. That he did not succeed is no disgrace. It is a tough, perhaps the toughest, accomplishment in sports. California Chrome was the thirteenth horse to win the first two legs of the crown, only to be defeated in the Belmont, since the Triple Crown was last won. Four of those finished second in the Belmont, Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, Silver Charm and Sunday Silence, Real Quiet came the closest when he was literally beaten by a nose when Victory Gallop just caught him at the wire.

In the history of the Triple Crown, thirty-three horses have won the first two legs of the series. Eleven have been able to complete the hat trick. There have been many horses considered as absolute champions, such as Spectacular Bid, Northern Dancer, Majestic Prince, Sunday Silence and Tim Tam, who won the first two to only be denied in the Belmont.

When Citation won the American Triple Crown in 1948 he became the eighth horse to do so since the acceptance of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes had been anointed by esteemed turf writer Charles Hatton as the three races of the series. The first winner was Sir Barton in 1919 and within the next twenty-nine years, seven more would win the prestigious Triple Crown. There would be another twenty-five years before the next winner of the Triple Crown would emerge and then three years later, two more would take the honours in back to back seasons. Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. There has not been another horse to accomplish the feat since.

All three of the champions from the 70’s would capture the public awareness via national television broadcasts and large crowds at the racetracks during their runs to glory and stamp their names in the minds of racing fans and general sports fans alike. Since the Triple Crown is only for three year olds, a horse has only one shot at this most prestigious of accomplishments. The manner in which these three superior horses won their place as turf legends has been told and retold countless times. They came from different backgrounds, won their Triple Crowns in their own unique manner, and went to stud with high expectations for their offspring. They had different levels of success as sires, but succeed they did.

Secretariat would demonstrate his superior athleticism and class in a most dominating manner. His charisma, and yes certain horses do have this trait, was infectious. He was the perfect equine specimen. The embodiment of power, grace and sheer supremacy, he was beautiful to look at and awe inspiring to watch in motion. A once in a lifetime equine marvel.

He won the Triple Crown by setting track records in each of the three races, although it would take many years to confirm his Preakness record due to a mix up with the official timer used on the day of his triumph. He beat a very good and fast horse named Sham, who in any other year would have likely won at least two of the races in the series. Secretariat’s performance in the Belmont stakes in 1973 still leaves one to shake his head in disbelief. A thirty-one length victory in 2:24 flat!

Never has a horse been so completely brilliant. It is a moment in time where time stands still, and everyone who witnessed the race remembers the feelings and emotions of watching perfection unfold right before their eyes.

Secretariat would have a successful sire career getting 9% stakes winners from total foals and is seen in the pedigrees of many top class horse today, primarily as the broodmare sire through leading sires Storm Cat, A.P. Indy and Gone West.

Seattle Slew was undefeated before he accomplished his Triple Crown, the only horse in history to do so. Slew would impose his will on the other horses in a race and with his supreme ability and high degree of intelligence, he would lead the field early and then refuse to let any horse pass him in the drive to the finish line. Guts, glory and greatness are the hallmarks of his career.

Perhaps the most telling evidence of Seattle Slew’s force of will came in his Kentucky Derby victory. He was squeezed off at start when the gates opened, leaving him behind a wall of horses. He would proceed to carve his way through the field to claim the front by the first turn, and then hold off several challenges to emerge the winner.

Whereas Secretariat was a royally bred horse, Seattle Slew came from modest bloodlines in his immediate family. He was purchased as a yearling for $17,500, and was by a young deceased sire with no progeny to race at that time from a mare that was a modest winner from modest bloodlines. His success would elevate his family to fashionable breeding status.

Seattle Slew would go on to become one the most important sires in American breeding and has revitalized the fabled Nasrullah sire line to a prominent position today.You can read an in depth article on this web-site pertaining to the breeding achievements of Seattle Slew, under the Nasrullah line category.

Affirmed would accomplished his Triple Crown the hard way. He had a rival worthy of being a Triple Crown winner himself in Alydar. In fact Alydar would finish second to Affirmed in each Triple Crown race. These two were from similar sire lines but were quite different in appearance. They would slug it out during one of the greatest rivalries ever seen in Thoroughbred Racing history.

Affirmed won the Derby when Alydar had his trouble with the Churchill Downs track, followed by the Preakness when the two locked up in a stirring stretch drive, Affirmed prevailing. The Belmont Stakes these two contested would be one of the great horse races ever witnessed. The race was an absolute gut wrenching no give up battle where each one would take and retake the lead from each other. This race was a memorable demonstration of sheer will and determination, horse racing at its finest.

These two were so evenly matched that even though Affirmed won all three Triple Crown races, Alydar is always remembered as a  horse worthy of Triple Crown glory, which he would have had, had it not been for Affirmed. Affirmed won his Triple Crown through sheer courage, an indomitable will to win and sublime athletic ability.

Affirmed, Seattle Slew and Secretariat brought racing to the forefront in sports pages during the 1970’s with their heroic Triple Crown performances. The excitement they generated with their stirring chases of a very rare and hard to obtain level of accomplishment brought many new fans to the sport. People who might not otherwise have been attracted to Thoroughbred racing became entranced in the spectacle and wonder of this exciting world of the equine. They would follow their careers as racers and then follow their offspring once they became old enough to race.

The traditional big races around the world that have been contested by the best horses throughout history would gain further credibility as the new followers would flock to the race tracks and race courses worldwide to see the best compete, and perhaps discover new favourites to cheer for. Those who could not attend would tune in to the TV broadcasts of the day.

Since Thoroughbred racing has always been an audience participation sport by having betting for the horse you feel will win his or her race, spectators would have a rooted interest in the proceedings. At times, even the most jaded of people would latch on to a particular horse that would become a personal favourite and follow said favourite throughout their career. Watching the great champions compete can be very addicting, that is to say that the will and effort put forth by these animals, doing what they were bred to do, never ceases to amaze any true fan.

Racing was popular before the Triple Crown Trio were born, but after they had shown to the average person that they were honest true athletes, that didn’t stop to renegotiate a contract or sulk if things were not going their way as some human athletes are wont to do, these three would give the public a true taste of what sport is all about and trigger a new wave of interest. Compete with everything you have and then if you are knocked down, get back up and compete again.

To this day, there has not been another horse to win the Triple Crown since. As stated thirteen horses have won the first two legs since the Triple Crown Trio but could not complete the trifector in the Belmont Stakes. Furthermore, in England where the birth of the breed took place, only Nijinsky has been able to win the Triple Crown (1970) in the last 80 years. Within a six year span, we as Thoroughbred enthusiasts were treated to an extraordinary level of class and equine supremacy. The reverberations of which are still ongoing, thanks to the exploits of Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

Here’s hoping that a new hero can emerge from what looks like a very fine crop of three year old contenders for this year’s Triple Crown.

2 comments

  • Great piece on the triple crown winners. The only thing that surprised me, was that you attributed A P Indy to Secretariat, when Seattle Slew was his sire, and is well known as the son who was the most influential in carrying on his line. Seattle Slew was the most prolific sire of all the three triple crown winners mentioned. Secretariat turned out to be a very influential broodmare sire.

  • I enjoyed your Triple Crown segment very much. I was only 15 years old when Secretariat won the Triple Crown & I’ve been hooked on Horse Racing, ever since! I wish Seattle Slew’s jockey, Jean Cruguet would be inducted into The Racing Hall of Fame. I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened. Thank You for your very interesting Thoroughbred Racing Ancestry Website. I Love It !!

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