05/31/2012 1:31PM

Triple Crown near-misses: Since Affirmed, 11 failed attempts

Barbara D. Livingston
War Emblem (middle), stumbling out of the gate in the 2002 Belmont, is one of 11 horses since 1979 who have failed to complete the Triple Crown sweep by losing in the Belmont.

The notion persists, agonizing in its simplicity. If Spectacular Bid, as good as he was, couldn’t win the Triple Crown, nor Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, or Smarty Jones, was it ever reasonable to expect Pleasant Colony, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, or Big Brown to pull it off?

The question will be asked and answered again June 9 at Belmont Park when I’ll Have Another, the horse of the hour, is thrown into the maw of a daunting historical trend in his attempt to add the Belmont Stakes to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories.

Since 1979 there have been 11 horses with a chance to win the Crown and 11 horses who failed. By comparison, during the Triple Crown drought that stretched from 1949 through 1972 there were seven horses who won the Derby and Preakness before losing the Belmont.

Two of them – Tim Tam and Majestic Prince − went wrong and never raced again. Northern Dancer ran once more and was gone, and Canonero was off for nearly a year. Kauai King benefitted from the 1966 Triple Crown absence of Graustark and Buckpasser and, went the thinking, was a lucky overachiever. It also should be noted that Forward Pass, had he managed to win the 1968 Belmont, would have been burdened by an asterisk throughout history because he won the Derby only after Dancer’s Image was disqualified for running on Bute.

In fact, of those seven near Triple Crowns, only Carry Back shrugged off his Belmont defeat and soldiered nobly on, all the way to the Hall of Fame: He ran 30 times before losing the 1961 Belmont Stakes and 30 times after, one of those coming in the Arc de Triomphe.

Even as the frustrations of that earlier era unfolded, there was no widespread denigration of the breed, no hand-wringing over the state of the game. What was heard, year after year after year, was a firm reminder that the Triple Crown was extremely difficult to win, and to expect there ever would be another decade like the 1940’s − when there were four winners of the Crown – was a mistake.

Then came the 1970’s, when Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed won Triple Crowns, and Spectacular Bid appeared a mortal lock to join the club. When he did not – for want of a healthy hoof or a more sensible ride – it turned out to be apocalyptic. The golden era ended with a whimper, ushering in a three-decade span during which the idea of another Triple Crown winner has become no more substantial than a desert mirage. As Guildenstern observed to Rosencrantz after losing a 76th straight toss of the coin, all heads:

“A weaker man might be moved to re-examine his faith, if in nothing else at least in the law of probability.”

Immutable laws aside, explanations abound for the failures of the last 33 years. The horses have not been tested. They’re frail and feeble compared to Thoroughbreds of the past. They worked too fast. They worked too slow. And don’t get folks started about the rides they were given by jockeys caught like deer in the Triple Crown headlights.

It is to the eternal credit of the game’s most ardent believers that hope for I’ll Have Another abounds. The chorus is in full throat: He’s got the class, the style, the pedigree, and a young jock in Mario Gutierrez who fits him like a glove. If he wins, welcome to history. But if he doesn’t, if the coin toss comes up heads again, he will add a 12th chapter to a poignant collection of Triple Crown what-ifs since the day Affirmed dealt Alydar that final Belmont blow.

Continue reading: Triple Crown near-misses

Spectacular Bid (1979) Pleasant Colony (1981) Alysheba (1987) Sunday Silence (1989)
Silver Charm (1997) Real Quiet (1998) Charismatic (1999) War Emblem (2002)
Funny Cide (2003) Smarty Jones (2004) Big Brown (2008)  


Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
Any more Triple Crown fizzles and we will wonder whether a Triple Crown is feasible. If I'll Have Another is the one to succeed at long last, he will make it seem like a reasonable goal for others.
Bill Brower More than 1 year ago
I have to agree - see my other comment.
Michael Jacob More than 1 year ago
Lets talk about the horses that won the Belmont stakes and never did nothing afterwards. like da tara , ruler on ice
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
IHA will win, what curse would this be ? Not Bambino ... $5mil bonus, the conditioners owners ect et al........Longden didn't want to run.......Ellsworth took Swaps home after yum brands...........spend a buck couldn't of won TC ? Kidding.........Johnny, asked to compare Count Fleet w/Swaps ? " The Count pull another horse & beat Swaps " Rex immediately replace w/Shoemaker......After IHA win Bel/TC to the winner really goes the spoils
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'll Have Another plusses: Strategic speed, gameness, ability to finish strong. I'll Have Another minuses: Not dominating in Derby and Preakness, not fresh (third long race in 5 weeks), rider not familiar with Triple Crown pressure, history is against him. My opinion? I'll Have Another has about a 1/3 chance to win. I'll be on somebody else - maybe this is when Alpha figures things out.
Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
Alpha scratched
Ashley Gwin More than 1 year ago
Yeah! Alpha scratched, you goofy guy!
George Sudduth More than 1 year ago
Bill Brower More than 1 year ago
To Anonymous,and the all other posters, to compare is fun,but not factual. What do we really know about a race (any kind of race) ? Only this - ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN ! BUT !!! - Everytime a horse has that chance to win The Triple Crown,we all hope he will do it. For what it's worth - my opinion is - based on his recent running style, I'll Have Another looks like he has the best chance since Affirmed. I would love to see him win by 20 lengths ! Would'nt that be something ? But I don't think that will happen. What I think will happen is that he will be 3rd or 4th at the top of the stretch,and then he will FLY BY THEM ALL !!! - DON'T BET ON IT !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A horse is a horse, of course, of course And no one can talk to a horse, of course That is, of course, unless the horse Is the famous Mr. Ed. Go right to the source and ask the horse He'll give you the answer that you'll endorse You never heard of a talking horse? Well, listen to this: I am Mr. Ed.
Maynard Runkle More than 1 year ago
Well, Ed, what is your prediction?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many Triple Crown might-have-beens have gotten derailed in the Derby when they were unable to run their race due to the huge fields? Reduce the Derby to a maximum 14 runners and you'll start to see more Triple Crown winners. Question is - can anyone make this happen?
Maynard Runkle More than 1 year ago
A great horse will overcome large fields. If they're not a great horse, they will wear a tarnished crown. Secretariat was so smart after being slammed in his debut he would often hold back and let the others charge ahead. He, like Zenyatta, would generally spot the field a few lengths and then blow past on the outside. Why try to win the race in the first quarter mile when he had speed and endurance to spare? The only exception was the Belmont where he vied for the early lead and then left the others in the dust. Contrary to some posters' opions, My Gallant, Sham and Our Native were not weak oponents. He just made them look that way. He lost to two older horses when he was unwisely kept down on the inside and squeezed against the rail. A really good horse will scare away the opposition but it takes time for the other owners and trainers to wake up to the fact that they're running for second money.In time, there will be other freaks of nature who outclass their entire generation. When they arrive, it will have been worth the wait.
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
# 1 - How many horses were in Secretariat's Derby? His example does not negate what anonymous says about field size. # 2 - You forget that Secretariat took off sprinting quite early in the Preakness and ran like a bat out of hell. So your statement, "....the only exception was the Belmont...." is not accurate.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
#2 Secretariat only passed 5 horses in the Preakness field, a great judgment by the rider as they crawled through a 50s half mile. The ride on Victoire Pisa passing 13 horses in the back stretch in the 2011 Dubai World Cup was far more impressive, especially considering that the first 7 horses to arrive at the stretch pretty much finished the race that way, so if the rider hadn't sent Victoire Pisa from last, he would have finished 7th at best.
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
It was a great judgment by the HORSE, who had a mind of his own that day. The horse's connections were shocked and report saying something to the effect, "What are on earth is he doing?" They thought the rider was going to throw the race by letting Sec. move so soon, after hanging back early, but the rider had no choice. Sec. must have lost patience with what you point out was a slow pace and took matters into his own......well, took them by the bit! And spontaneously changed tactics.
Pom De Terre More than 1 year ago
I'm uncertain you have looked at Secretariat's charts. Out of his 21 starts, he was, at the first quarter, in 5th position or worse 8 or 9 times, and most of these races were as a 2 yr old. Far more often he was either stalking by a couple lengths or had the lead outright.- the huge exception being the Derby where he was 6 out of 13 at the quarter. However, to say his style resembled that of Zenyatta or any other closer is simply not accurate. Sham was a great opponent who picked the wrong year to be born. He still holds the second fastest Derby time.
Ry More than 1 year ago
Sham MAY have the second fastest time. Due to differences in timing he could be as low as 4th. Still impressive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hope springs eternal. Is this the time Lucy doesn't pull the ball away and Charlie Brown finally kicks it into the history books? We shall see.
LawyerBilly More than 1 year ago
Went the Day Well has the times and the late run style to win the Belmont over I'll Have Another. Where is he? That would be an exacta to pound.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Went The Day Well? You have to show up on Belmont Stakes Day to win. Went The Day Well's people obviously don't think he's good enough. A Derby/Preakness sweep will always drive much of the talent out of the Belmont. Most of the horses that won the first two and lost the Belmont weren't facing strong fields, but the distance and the wear and tear defeated them anyway. Remember Big Brown and Da'Tara? Who's to say the same won't happen to I'll Have Another?
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Big Brown was too lightly races and never been tested, and had a perpetual hoof problem. If he had run a couple of races the way that he ran the Haskell and the Monmouth Stakes before tackling the Triple Races, he probably would have been the 12th TC winner.
George Sudduth More than 1 year ago
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
Crete More than 1 year ago
.."I'll have Another", it is another horse race to the horse, true horse players know this is a hard feat, 11 before, "Forward pass" controversy would have been an issue ,"Real Quite", would the stewards have taken him down? I will be rooting for "I 'll have another simply because it is what racing needs, but yes I will try and beat him.
freecharm More than 1 year ago
Great question you ask about what would have happened had RQ won the nose; Desrmeaux, doing the only thing left in those last hundred yards, get in VG;s way but Stevens must have anticipated that and avoided any trouble and was able to not miss a stride in the upset. I say yes, the Belmont stewards would have dq's RQ. But like all this other speculation about what might have happened if, in past races - what's the point?
Bustedbox2 More than 1 year ago
Thank you, Jay Hovdey, for saying all that needed to be said. As usual, your prose is elegant, sparse and to the point, and profound.