The Triple Crown of horse racing is awarded to a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in the same year. As of 2015, only 12 horses had won the Triple Crown since 1919, when Sir Barton dominated the field in all three races. The races are only open to three year old Thoroughbred horses, and in order to win the Triple Crown, a horse must be in peak condition for all three. Winning all three races is considered to be an immense honor, and the list of winners includes the names of famous equine athletes such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, War Admiral, and Affirmed. A prize of five million US dollars is awarded to the winner of the Triple Crown, in addition to the substantial purse prizes in all three races.
The first race is the Kentucky Derby, run at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May since 1875. The race is the among the oldest sporting events in the American South, and is termed the “Run for the Roses” because of the blanket of roses draped over the neck of the winner. The Derby is run over a distance of a mile and a quarter (2 kilometers), and is somewhat earlier in the season than many other races. For this reason, the horse needs to brought to racing condition early and maintained that way over the course of the Triple Crown if it wants a chance at taking the coveted prize.
The second race, the Preakness Stakes, is held on the third Saturday in May at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. It was first run in 1873, and has been run at a variety of distances. Since 1925, the Preakness Stakes has been officially run at one and three sixteenths of a mile (1.91 kilometers), and is the shortest race in the series. Winning the Preakness Stakes requires sprinting ability and excellent positioning skills on the part of the jockey. The Preakness Stakes is also called the “Run for the Black Eyed Susans,” after the blanket made from the state flower of Maryland which is draped on the winner.
The Belmont Stakes, inaugurated in 1867, is considered to be the most grueling race in the series. The race is one and one half miles (2.4 kilometers) long, and horses which perform well in the first two races cannot always make the distance. The race is run in June at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. The winner is decorated with a blanket of carnations after running the race. A victory in the Belmont requires excellent pacing skills on the part of horse and rider, and stamina combined with a will to win from the horse.
Ever since the sportswriter Charles Hatton coined the term “Triple Crown” in 1930, the three events have been eagerly followed by many people in the United States. Even those who are not enthusiastic about horse racing tend to keep track of the Triple Crown events, and they are viewed as the most important races in the horse racing world. For jockeys, riding a horse in a Triple Crown race is a great honor, and taking the horse to the Triple Crown is a career crowning cap. Owners and trainers likewise are eager to send horses to the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, because of the immense prestige of the races.