11 Horses That Came Oh-So-Close to Winning the Triple Crown
After come-from-behind victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, I’ll Have Another can become the 12th horse in history to win the Triple Crown with a victory at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, 11 horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to fail to win the Belmont Stakes. Here’s a look at those horses that were in position to pull off the feat, only to fall in the Belmont:
2008 – Big Brown
After a 4 ¾ lengths victory in the Kentucky Derby and a 5 ¼ lengths win in the Preakness, undefeated Big Brown headed to the Belmont as a 3-10 favorite. During the race, jockey Kent Desormeaux tried to get Big Brown to close on eventual winner Da’ Tara, but Big Brown bumped into Tale of Ekati and fell back into the pack, finishing ninth. Both trainer Rick Dutrow and Desormeaux were disappointed that Big Brown could not deliver a Triple Crown.
2004 – Smarty Jones
A thoroughbred from Pennsylvania, Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby by 2¾ lengths, becoming the first undefeated Derby winner since Seattle Slew in 1977. Additionally, trainer John Servis and jockey Stewart Elliott became the first duo in 25 years to win the Derby in their debut. Smarty Jones went on to win the Preakness Stakes by a record margin of 11½ lengths, placing him in position to win the Triple Crown in New York. However, Smarty Jones placed second in the Belmont Stakes, losing to 36-1 long shot Birdstone.
2003 – Funny Cide
The first New York-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Funny Cide captured the prestigious horse race by 1¾ lengths over favored Empire Maker. Two weeks later, Funny Cide and jockey Jose Santos dominated a small field at the Preakness, winning the race by 9¾ lengths. Three weeks later, trainer Barclay Tagg had Funny Cide ready for the Belmont Stakes. Alas, Santos rode Funny Cide too near the rail on the muddy Belmont track and both Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted finished ahead of the gelding.
2002 – War Emblem
After winning the Kentucky Derby despite 21-to-1 odds, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza brought Kentucky-bred War Emblem to the Preakness Stakes, where he easily topped the field. As War Emlbem attempted to claim a Triple Crown, however, he was defeated by 70-1 shot Sarava at the Belmont Stakes, fading badly down the stretch. The race attracted a record crowd of 103,222.
1999 – Charismatic
Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Chris Antley, Charismatic seemed poised to be the next horse to win the elusive Triple Crown. Through the stallion was a 31-1 long shot in the Kentucky Derby, Charismatic won by a head over Menifee. Charismatic also beat Menifee at the Preakness to head to Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown. Despite being a 2-1 favorite, Charismatic faded down the stretch of the Belmont Stakes, falling behind eventual winner Lemon Drop Kid. In the homestretch, Antley jumped off Charismatic, who had suffered an injury to his left leg. The jockey held up the colt’s leg as the race ended around them, an act that may have saved the horse’s life.
1998 – Real Quiet
Jockey Kent Desormeaux rode Real Quiet to victory in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, setting up weeks of anticipation as to whether or not the stallion could win the Triple Crown for trainer Bob Baffert. However, Real Quiet lost the Belmont Stakes – and the Triple Crown – when he was beaten by a nose by Victory Gallop. To date, Real Quiet is the horse that has come the closest to winning the Triple Crown since Affirmed did so in 1978.
1997 – Silver Charm
Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Gary Stevens took Silver Charm to convincing victories in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 1997. Unfortunately for Baffert and Stevens, Silver Charm lost to Touch Gold in the Belmont Stakes, falling one win short of the Triple Crown.
1989 – Sunday Silence
After winning the Kentucky Derby by 2½ lengths over favored Easy Goer, Sunday Silence gave trainer Charlie Whittingham and jockey Pat Valenzuela hope for a legitimate Triple Crown run. The excitement built when Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer by a nose in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Sunday Silence assumed the role of the favorite at Belmont, but lost to Easy Goer by eight lengths, thus denying Whittingham and Valenzuela the Triple Crown.
1987 – Alysheba
An impressive Kentucky-bred horse, Alysheba was a favorite of trainer Jack Van Berg and jockey Chris McCarron. Alysheba prevailed in the Kentucky Derby, despite being nearly knocked down by Bet Twice. Alysheba also won the Preakness, setting up a chance at the Triple Crown at Belmont. Much to the dismay of Van Berg and McCarron, Bet Twice won the Belmont Stakes by an amazing 14 lengths, as Alysheba was unable to capture the Triple Crown.
1981 – Pleasant Colony
Trainer John P. Campo and jockey Jorge Velasquez had Pleasant Colony ready for the Kentucky Derby in 1981. The horse beat a hard charging Woodchopper to win the race by three-quarters of a length. Two weeks later, Velasquez brought Pleasant Colony from behind to beat Bold Ego and put his horse into position to win the Triple Crown at Belmont. Unfortunately, Pleasant Colony finished third to Summing in the third leg of the Triple Crown series.
1979 – Spectacular Bid
After Affirmed (1978) and Seattle Slew (1977) had each won the Triple Crown in the two years prior to 1979, it seemed unlikely that any horse could replicate the feat. Jockey Ronnie Franklin rode Spectacular Bid to a 2¾ lengths win over General Assembly in the Kentucky Derby, as trainer Bud Delp all but guaranteed victory. Spectacular Bid overwhelmed the field in the Preakness, winning by 5½ lengths with a faster time than that of Seattle Slew or Affirmed. On the morning of the Belmont Stakes, Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin, but he was not visibly affected until an infection set in weeks later. Still, Spectacular Bid finished third in the Belmont behind Coastal and Golden Act.