06/05/2012 1:49PM

Triple Crown familiar term around the world


When Charles Hatton, the Daily Racing Form columnist, began calling Gallant Fox’s 1930 run through the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes the Triple Crown, he was mining a term said to have originated in mid-19th century England when a horse named West Australia won the 2000 Guineas, the Derby, and the St. Leger.

This year, the American and English Triple Crowns are linked by I’ll Have Another and Camelot, both of whom have swept the first two legs of the respective series. Only in 1935 has a horse won a Triple Crown in England and the U.S. the same year.

It’s no wonder the term “Triple Crown” stuck. Humans can’t seem to ever wriggle free of an obsession with royalty, and we also have a deep connection to the number 3. The notion of a holy trinity is present in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Three is the smallest odd prime number, and regularly appears in philosophical systems. And, of course, there is the Rule of Three – the idea that celebrity deaths occur in threes.

No wonder, then, that racing jurisdictions around the globe have found a way to link three races and call it a Triple Crown. Some are more meaningful and logical than others.

• Races: 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, St. Leger
• Most recent winner: Nijinsky, 1970

The odd thing is that there’s so much talk of Camelot actually making a Triple Crown bid this year. It has been more than 40 years since Nijinsky swept through the series, but in general, English racing shrugs its shoulders at the drought. That’s because the St. Leger has become such a weak link. The 2000 Guineas and the Derby fall a few weeks apart in May and June, and most of the best colts in Europe would have one of the two races on their itinerary, depending on distance preference, the Guineas being a straight-course mile, the Derby a demanding 1 1/2 miles. But Leg 3, the St. Leger at Doncaster, doesn’t come up until September, and its 1 3/4-mile distance caters to stayers, who, it must be said, aren’t all that sexy. In any case, by September, a horse good enough to have won the Guineas and the Derby will have begun tackling foes in races with far more glamour than the St. Leger, and if Camelot makes a Triple Crown bid, it will be a somewhat historic moment in modern British racing history.

• Races: 2000 Guineas, Irish Derby, Irish St. Leger
• Most recent winner: Windsor Slipper, 1942

All the Irish races with the same name as the English counterparts are of less significance than the English races. Sorry, Ireland. A horse good enough to have won the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Irish Derby more than likely would be aiming for more prestigious prizes, which, to some extent, would account for the 70-year gap since the last Irish Triple Crown.

Moreover, the Irish series violates the unwritten principle that a Triple Crown should be for horses of a certain age, since the St. Leger is open to older entrants.

• Races: 3-year-olds – Randwick Guineas, Rosehill Guineas, Australian Derby. 2-year-olds – Golden Slipper, AJC Produce Stakes, Champagne Stakes
• Most recent winner: 3-year-old series – Octagonal, 1995. 2-year-old series – Pierro, 2012

Leave it to a nation that began life as a penal colony to break the rules. Australia, not content with one Triple Crown, has two such series, one for 2-year-olds, the other a more traditional 3-year-old series.

Octagonal could only win one of the three 2-year-old Triple Crown races in 1994, but he swept the 3-year-old series the next fall. And Pierro ushered in what has a chance to become the year of the Triple Crown, 2012, by capturing all three of the spring classics this year.

• Races: Queen’s Plate, Prince of Wales, Breeders’ Stakes
• Most recent winner: Wando, 2003

Sure, a moderately knowledgeable North American racing fan would respect the last five winners of the Canadian Triple Crown; With Approval, Izvestia, Dance Smartly, Peteski, and Wando. But the fact that the Canadian Triple Crown is restricted to horses bred in Canada does dampen the accomplishment. Consider that in 2010 there were 2,061 foals registered as Thoroughbreds in Canada, less than the number of registered foals the same year in Louisiana. And at last check, there existed no Louisiana Triple Crown.

• Races: Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger)
• Most recent winner: Orfevre, 2011

The Japanese modeled their Triple Crown for males (there’s one for 3-year-old fillies, too) on the English system. As in those countries, there’s the big space of time between the Derby and the St. Leger, though the Japanese Guineas is a 1 1/4-mile race rather than a flat mile. Two American runners sired Triple Crown winners, Brian’s Time (Narita Brian) and Sunday Silence (Deep Impact).

• Races: Gran Premio Polla de Potrillos y Gran Premio Polla de Potrancas, Gran Premio Jockey Club, Gran Premio Nacional
• Most recent winner: Refinado Tom, 1996

The Argentine series is interesting in that it throws a turf race, the Jockey Club, into the mix. If you think a truly excellent horse should be able to handle multiple racing surfaces, the Argentine Triple Crown is for you. The prize money, though, is kind of a downer: A colt named Chuck Berry earned about $30,000 for winning the 2011 Gran Premio Polla de Potrillos, the equivalent of the Kentucky Derby.


Triple cream cheeses? A resounding, oui. A Triple Crown? Non.