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The Triple Crown Races: All You Need to Know

Last updated: December 29, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Recently I watched the Kentucky Derby with friends, and afterward, some of us discussed what it takes for a horse to win The Triple Crown. However, some weren’t familiar with this annual racing event.

The Triple Crown consists of three horse races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. These races are held annually, and each race is open to three-year-old thoroughbred horses. Winning The Triple Crown is one of the most challenging achievements in sports.

The series was first to run in 1875, and it has been a popular event ever since. In this blog post, we will take a look at the history of the Triple Crown Races, as well as the order in which they are run. We will also discuss some of the most famous horses to compete in these races over the years.


The History of the Triple Crown Races

Horse racing is a sport with a long and rich history. One of the most iconic aspects of horse racing is the “Triple Crown” races. The first race is the Kentucky Derby, which is held in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Kentucky Derby began in 1875 and is known for its fast winning times, and over the years, horsemen have worked to breed ever-faster horses. However, despite these efforts, the winning time has only marginally improved in the last 110 years.

In 1875, the winning horse completed the course at 2:37.75; in 1914, the winner posted a time of 2:03.40; and in 2019, the winning horse crossed the finish line at 2:02.93.

The Preakness Stakes is an annual horse race that has been held in Maryland since 1873. It is the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown and is typically held two weeks after the Kentucky Derby.

The Preakness Stakes is run at a distance of 1 3/16 miles, making it slightly shorter than the Kentucky Derby. The race attracts some of the best three-year-old thoroughbreds from around the world and often features horses that did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

The Preakness Stakes is one of the most prestigious horse races in the United States, and its winner receives a large silver trophy.

The Belmont Stakes is a horse race that is held every year in Elmont, New York. It is the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, and it is open to three-year-old Thoroughbreds. The Belmont Stakes was first to run in 1867, making it the oldest event in the Triple Crown series.

The race is named after August Belmont Sr., who served as the first President of The Jockey Club. The Belmont Stakes is typically run on the last Saturday in June, and it is contested over a distance of 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers).

The Belmont Stakes is one of the most prestigious horse races in the United States, and it has been won by some of the most famous horses in history, including Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and American Pharoah.

These three races are considered to be the most prestigious horse races in the world. In order to win the Triple Crown, a horse must win all three races. This is no easy feat; since Sir Barton’s victory in 1919, there have only been 12 other horses who have won the Triple Crown.

The most recent horse to achieve this feat was American Pharoah, which won it in 2015. Given the difficulty of winning all three races, it’s no wonder that the Triple Crown is considered one of horse racing’s most prestigious titles.

While Sir Barton was the first horse to win all three races, it wasn’t until 1930 that the term “Triple Crown” was actually coined.


Justify in the Preakness Winners Circle. Maryland GovPics, CC BY 2.0

The Order of the Triple Crown Races

The horse racing world gearing up for the Triple Crown season. The order of the Triple Crown races is the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. The order of the Triple Crown races is significant because it is designed to challenge horses and riders alike.

The Kentucky Derby is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May. The Preakness Stakes is held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. The Belmont Stakes is held at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, three weeks after the Preakness Stakes.

The Triple Crown season culminates with the Belmont Stakes, which is often referred to as “The Test of the Champion.” By running these races in this order, horses have to be able to demonstrate their versatility and endurance in order to win the Triple Crown.

Picture of a horse running in one of the Triple Crown races.
Justify winning the Belmont Stakes. Mike Lizzi, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0

The distances of each race in the Triple Crown

Every time I would see a horse race as I was growing up I would always wonder the same thing. How far is each one of these races? The answer is different for each race, and often, even the surface they run on changes.

Typically in horse racing, the distance is measured in furlongs – or 220 yards. The Kentucky Derby, which is the most famous of the three Triple Crown races, is 10 furlongs or one and a quarter miles long and is run on a dirt race track.

Next up in the Triple Crown is the Preakness Stakes, which takes place after the Kentucky Derby but before the Belmont Stakes. The Preakness is a Grade I race and is shorter than the Kentucky Derby clocking in at 9.5 furlongs or 1 and 3/16th of a mile, and it also takes place on dirt.

Taking place three weeks after the Preakness Stakes is the Belmont Stakes which is known to be the
toughest race of the three Triple Crown races. The Belmont Stakes is also a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbreds and is the longest of the three Triple Crown races at 12 furlongs or 1 and ½ miles long.

At 1 and ½ miles long, the Belmont Race covers one entire lap of the track, which is known as “The Championship Track.”

Seattle Slew (cropped)

Seattle Slew. Pawneese, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Most Famous Horses in Triple Crown History

Over the years, there have been many great horses who have won the Triple Crown. Here are five famous racehorses:

  • Secretariat: Secretariat is widely considered to be one of the greatest racehorses of all time. In 1973, he became the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown. His record-breaking performances at the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes are still spoken about today.
  • Citation: Citation was the eighth winner of the Triple Crown. He won an unprecedented 16 consecutive races. He retired from racing in 1951 with a record of 19 wins in 22 starts and earnings of $1,085,760, making him the first horse to surpass the million-dollar mark in career earnings.
  • Affirmed: Affirmed was another great horse of the 1970s. He won 13 out of his 14 starts, including the Triple Crown in 1978. He was the last horse to win horse racing’s biggest prize until 2015.
  • American Pharoah: Winning not only the Triple Crown but also the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Races, American Pharoah is one of the best horses in recent history. He went on to achieve his goals in 2015 by winning the Triple Crown and also the Breeder’s Cup, which gave him the Grand Slam title.

Throughout the years, the winners of the Triple Crown have become larger than life itself. Popular culture and Hollywood stars have brought attention to the history of Triple Crown winners with movies such as Secretariat.
Secretariat, otherwise known as “Big Red,” shocked the racing world with his dominating performance in the Belmont Stakes, winning by more than 31 lengths ahead of the second-place horse.

This race has gone down as the single best race run by any horse of all time. At a young age, he
grew into a massive horse, standing at 16.2 hands or 66 inches tall.

Here are some interesting facts about Secretariat:

  • He was so large that much of his equipment was custom-made to fit his unusually large size.
  • Even for his size, his stride was very large which added to his speed.
  • Having an abnormally large stature means abnormally large amounts of food he must consume to maintain this. Secretariat ate around 15 quarts of oats each day.
  • On average, a thoroughbred’s heart is around 8 to 9 pounds; Secretariat’s heart was a whopping 22 pounds. This large heart was said to be his secret to success because it provided for a tremendous cardiovascular system.
  • He was nominated to the National Museum of Racing and the Hall of Fame in 1974.

Man o’ War is one of the greatest racehorses of all time. As a chestnut stallion, he was the co-athlete of the year in 1920, sharing the title with the great Babe Ruth. Following the end of World War I, he competed in 21 races and ended up in the winner’s circle for 20 of those.

He won each of the Triple Crown races he competed in but didn’t race in the Kentucky Derby because his owner did not believe in running such a young horse at the distance of 10 furlongs.

He went on to dominate the next two triple crown races and set the world record at the Belmont Stakes-winning it by 20 lengths. During his career, the Triple Crown was not as popular as it is today. Man o’ War was inducted into the National Museum and Racing and Hall of Fame in 1957.

He retired after his 2015 season-ending his career with almost nine million dollars of total winnings.

Seabiscuit winning 1940 SAH

Seabiscuit winning.

Famous horses that didn’t compete in any of the Triple Crown races

Winning the Triple Crown is known to be the greatest achievement in thoroughbred racing but is reserved for three-year-old horses. Some horses don’t qualify at that age and become great horses later, or they simply don’t enter the Triple Crown races.

Between injury or human error, some horses miss their opportunity to win the Triple Crown but move on to do some very memorable things. Here are a few of the greatest racehorses that didn’t run in any of the Triple Crown Races:

Seabiscuit: Seabiscuit was a light bay stallion with a small stature of 15.2 hands born. His story is widely known around the world after Hollywood adapted it into a successful movie. He is the grandson of the Triple Crown winner Man O’ War.

In a two-horse special at Pimlico, Seabiscuit defeated the 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral by four lengths. War Admiral was Seabiscuit’s uncle, with his father being Man o’ War.

Phar Lap: Phar Lap was a New Zealand-bred horse that never competed in any Triple Crown races. He is known to be the greatest horse in New Zealand. Many of his greatest wins took place overseas.

He is widely known for winning races as an underdog, which didn’t sit well with a lot of gamblers,
making for assassination attempts on his life. With his sudden death taking place in 1932, many believe Phar Lap was poisoned with a large dose of arsenic. The film adaptation of Phar Lap’s life is one of my favorite horse racing movies.

Ruffian: Ruffian was not only one of the greatest female racehorses. She was one of the best racehorses of all time. Ruffian was a dark bay filly born in Kentucky during the 1970s.

She never took place in any Triple Crown races. She won the Two-Year-Old Filly of The Year and Three-Year-Old Filly of The Year awards in 1974 and 1975, respectively.

She won ten straight races, including many stakes races. She suffered a horrific injury during her final race and was euthanized. Ruffian was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1976. Her story was adapted into a film released in 2007 titled Ruffian.

Picture of racehorses.

How to bet on the Triple Crown races

With a pocket full of cash and a head full of confidence, the most enjoyable way to bet on any horse race would be to go to your local track. Most tracks do not run year long so sometimes you may need to find a different option.

Off-Track betting parlors, sometimes better known simply as OTB, are a common destination for people wanting to gamble on horse racing. From gamblers screaming at the TV screens to the electronic betting machines found at the tracks, OTBs provide the same feeling you may find at the actual race track.

What if you do not want to leave the comfort of your own home but still would like to place a bet? Online betting has become very popular since the internet has become so mainstream.

There are many online betting sites that can be easily reached on your smartphone, making it easy to bet on the horse of your choice without having to leave your home.

Below is a YouTube video of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

YouTube video


What is a Triple Crown winner in horse racing?

In order to win the Triple Crown, a horse must win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.

Who was the fastest horse to win the Triple Crown?

Among the many great champions who have graced the track, one horse stands out above the rest: Secretariat. In 1973, Secretariat became the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown, and he did so in a record-breaking fashion.