Back in the 1970s, it almost seemed like it was commonplace for horses to win the Triple Crown.
Three did it from 1973 to 1978, including in consecutive years in '77 and '78. Since that point though, the greatest prize in horse racing has been left unclaimed in spite of the fact that there have been a number who have tried. American Pharoah can break that hex on Saturday at the Belmont Stakes, and he is a -130 favorite to get the job done.
LIST OF TRIPLE CROWN WINNERS
1919: Sir Barton 1930: Gallant Fox
1937: War Admiral 1941: Whirlaway 1943: Count Fleet 1946: Assault 1948: Citation 1973: Secretariat 1977: Seattle Slew 1978: Affirmed
The list of colts who have won the Triple Crown have been fantastic, and they all had relatively similar running styles. The main way to go on to the ultimately level of success in the Triple Crown is to be a stalker, running either on the pace or just off of it before turning on the jets at the end to walk away with victories.
American Pharoah does just this. He hasn't led in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes right out of the chute, but he has been well-positioned without much between himself and the leaders. In both cases, he was at the head of the field by the end of the far turn, and when he turned for home, no one was able to run him down.
NEAR MISSES FOR THE TRIPLE CROWN
1932: Burgoo King (did not run) 1936: Bold Venture (did not run)
1944: Pensive (2nd in Belmont)
1958: Tim Tam (2nd in Belmont)
1961: Carry Back (7th in Belmont)
1964: Northern Dancer (3rd in Belmont)
1966: Kauai King (4th in Belmont)
1968: Forward Pass (2nd in Belmont)
1969: Majestic Prince (2nd in Belmont)
1971: Canonero II (4th in Belmont)
1979: Spectacular Bid (3rd in Belmont)
1981: Pleasant Colony (3rd in Belmont)
1987: Alysheba (4th in Belmont)
1989: Sunday Silence (2nd in Belmont)
1997: Silver Charm (2nd in Belmont)
1998: Real Quiet (2nd in Belmont)
1999: Charismatic (3rd in Belmont)
2002: War Emblem (8th in Belmont)
2003: Funny Cide (3rd in Belmont)
2004: Smarty Jones (2nd in Belmont)
2008: Big Brown (did not finish Belmont)
2012: I'll Have Another (did not run)
2014: California Chrome (4th in Belmont)
There are two items of note here when looking back at the list of near misses in the Belmont Stakes. The big one is the fact that history suggests American Pharoah shouldn't be an odds on favorite to win this race. There have been 13 horses win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes since Affirmed captured the Triple Crown, and they are 0-for-12 in their attempts at winning the Belmont (I'll Have Another didn't run in 2012).
The secondary thought though, is how close these horses have come. Eight of the 12 runners in the Belmont Stakes who had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1978 did finish either second or third. There's also no telling whether Big Brown would have hit the board had he not been pulled up around the far turn and not allowed to finish the race.
It's very likely a safe bet that American Pharoah will manage to either win, place or show at the Belmont Stakes, and the -500 or so odds that he'll have on his head to do so will suggest just that. To win this race though, is the true "Test of Champions," and American Pharoah will have to work incredibly hard against this field to be able to pull it off.
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