The Belmont Stakes puts thoroughbred horse racing in the gambling spotlight once again this Saturday when California Chrome bids to become the first 3-year-old since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown.
The honor rolls of World Series, Super Bowl, and Stanley Cup winners through the years all boast teams of varying championship qualities. There's little doubt some were better than others. Some stand out as dynasties, others gather dust on the shelves of time. It's inevitable when there has to be a winner.
There doesn't have to be a Triple Crown thoroughbred champion, yet the opportunity exists to have a winner every year. The events that comprise the Triple Crown are held annually. Individually they are difficult to win; collectively they represent nearly insurmountable challenges.
Tens of thousands of thoroughbreds are foaled every year, but only an elite 11 have ever won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes:
Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978).
There were no Triple Crown champions in the 50s and 60s; none in the 80s and 90s or the first decade of the new millennium. There was a 25-year gap between Citation and Secretariat. It has been 36 years since the last Triple Crown winner, the longest drought in the long history of the competition.
Triple Crown champions are in a class by themselves. Every thoroughbred has only one chance to join the exclusive club. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont are restricted to 3-year-olds. When you get right down to it, thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown just may be the most elite mantel of greatness in all of sports.
The three Triple Crown stakes are held at three different race tracks in three different states at three different distances during a span of six weeks. The track configurations and running surfaces are different in every instance, plus there's this little complication:
Many of the thoroughbreds who compete in the Triple Crown races are barely three years of age by the calendar. Since race horses celebrate a universal birthday on January 1, horses foaled in April turn a year old the following January, yet in reality they are only eight months old.
The third and final jewel of the Triple Crown is held at Belmont Park in New York City, three weeks after the Preakness. The race is called "The Test of the Champion" and rightfully so. It's a demanding 1 1/2 miles, in many cases the first and only time the horses will ever be asked to run that far.
When you take into account the media hoopla that surrounds the Triple Crown events, the hordes of people who pack the stands, the noise, and all the hype, it's a miracle any horse has been able to overcome the obstacles that stand in his way on the road to racing greatness!
We’ll find out on Saturday if California Chrome will join the most exclusive club in all of sports.
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