Ranking American Pharoah among the Triple Crown winners

Ranking American Pharoah among the Triple Crown winners
Secretariat, with jockey Ron Turcotte, after a legendary win at the Belmont Stakes in 1973. (Associated Press)

American Pharoah made history Saturday by becoming the 12th member in one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports.

His performance in the Belmont Stakes, in which he captured the Triple Crown, was electric and eardrum-damaging for those in attendance. You probably have to go back to Zenyatta’s dramatic win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009 or, in 1996, Cigar's equaling Citation’s 16 consecutive wins to recall when horse racing was on such a high.

Will American Pharoah rank among the all-time greats? It's too early to tell and we might never know how good he is if he retires at the end of his 3-year-old season. No decision has been made on that.

So, with enthusiasm over American Pharoah's win at a high and even though it's pretty crazy to try to rank horses from different eras, we're going to revise the L.A. Times' rankings of the top Triple Crown winners of all time.


And, yes, no one will ever top Secretariat, winner of the most commanding Triple Crown race in the history of horse racing -- his win at the Belmont.


1. Secretariat (1973)

His 31-length victory in the Belmont remains the most impressive performance by a horse of all time. Why was he so good? He was a physical freak. After he died,  an autopsy found his heart to be more than twice as large as a normal heart, allowing him to process oxygen in a way that gave him such great stamina.

2. Citation (1948)

No complaints about not enough rest for this horse. He won the Jersey Stakes by 11 lengths between the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont. His regular rider, Al Snider, never made it to the Triple Crown races; Snider drowned while fishing. Eddie Arcaro took over. Later in his career, Citation won 16 races in a row.

3. Seattle Slew (1977)

He is the only Triple Crown winner to finish the series having never lost a race to that point. At the Kentucky Derby, he was an outrageously low 1-2 favorite. His best race was the Belmont, which he won by four lengths. He almost died the following year when he suffered a collapsed jugular vein, but recovered and returned to the track.

4. Count Fleet (1943)

He also ran a race between the Preakness and Belmont, winning the Withers Stakes. His victory in the Kentucky Derby was by three lengths, followed by eight in the Preakness, and then he won the Belmont by 25 lengths, a record until it was broken by Secretariat. He died at 33, making him the longest-living winner of the Derby and Preakness.

5. War Admiral (1937)

He was difficult at the starting gate and delayed the Kentucky Derby by eight minutes and the Belmont by nine. Nonetheless, he was clearly the best horse that year. He was painted as the antagonist in the movie "Seabiscuit," losing a match race to America's hero. His father was Man o' War.

6. Affirmed (1978)

He's as much known for his rivalry with Alydar as for winning the Triple Crown. The two battled all three races, finishing 1-2 in each. Affirmed later raced Seattle Slew, the only time Triple Crown winners have met each other, with Slew winning both of the races.

7. Whirlaway (1941)

He made winning the Triple Crown look easy, winning by eight, 5 1/2 and 2 1/2 lengths. He also ran an allowance race between the Preakness and Belmont. He was the most heavily raced Triple Crown winner, running 60 times and winning 32  times.

8. American Pharoah (2015)

The amazing thing about American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run is that he got better every race. The Kentucky Derby was definitely his most difficult, with jockey Victor Espinoza going to the whip more than 30 times. The Preakness was a great race over a sloppy course and he showed he can run on any surface. But at the Belmont, where others have faded in the stretch, he increased his lead.

9. Assault (1946)

After an eight-length win in the Kentucky Derby, he won the Preakness by a neck. People thought he had stamina issues, but he came back in the Belmont to win by three. He was supposed to be retired after his 4-year-old season but couldn't get any mares pregnant, so he was returned to the track and raced until he was 7.

10. Gallant Fox (1930)

When he was running, the Preakness was the first race in the Triple Crown. He won it by three-quarters of a length and followed up with a three-length win in the Kentucky Derby before an easy win in the Belmont. He was the first Triple Crown winner to sire another T.C. winner—Omaha.

11. Omaha (1935)

He had a pretty average career for a Triple Crown champion, winning nine of his 22 starts. He ran in the Withers between the Preakness and Belmont, finishing second. His most impressive win was in the Preakness, which he won by six lengths. He died at 27 and was buried at Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack in, well, you figure out where.

12. Sir Barton (1919)

Talk about a compressed schedule. He won all three races in just 32 days. His first-ever race was the Kentucky Derby, followed four days later by the Preakness. He also won the Withers before the Belmont. At that time, the Belmont was a 1 3/16-mile race. He was the first winner of the Triple Crown.

Twitter: @jcherwa