American Pharoah is looking to find his place in history by becoming the 12th horse to win horse racing’s Triple Crown.
The list of past winners is impressive and from many different eras of racing. Trying to compare them is nothing short of foolish, which is exactly why it’s worth a try.
The one thing that seems indisputable is that Secretariat was the greatest horse to win the Triple Crown. Many rank him second best horse ever behind Man o’ War. But after that it gets pretty difficult. Consulting other lists of horse racing’s greatest, along with some guesswork and intuition, here is the L.A. Times’ ranking of the 11 horses that have won the Triple Crown.
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. When they did an autopsy, his heart was found to be more than two times as large as a normal heart, allowing him to process oxygen in 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 and Belmont. His regular rider, Al Snider, never made it to the Triple Crown races as he drowned while fishing. Eddie Arcaro took over. Later in his career, Citation won 16 straight races.
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 winning the Triple Crown. The two battled all three races, finishing one-two 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 8, 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 TC winner, running 60 times and winning 32 of them.
8. Assault (1946)
After an 8-length win in the Kentucky Derby, he barely won the Preakness by a neck. People thought he had stamina issues but he came back in the Belmont to win by 3. 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.
9. Gallant Fox (1930)
When he was running, the Preakness was the first race in the Triple Crown. He won it by 3/4 length and followed up with a 3-length win in the Kentucky Derby before an easy win in the Belmont. He was the first Triple Crown winner to sire another TC winner—Omaha.
10. Omaha (1935)
He had a pretty average career for a Triple Crown champion, winning 9 of his 22 starts. He ran in the Withers between the Preakness and Belmont, finishing second. His most impressive win was in the Preakness, winning by six lengths. He died at 27 and was buried at Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack in, well, you figure out where.
11. 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.