Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Three Notable Triple Crown Winners

Posted on July 11, 2014 by Martin Banks

With the defeat of California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes, we were robbed of witnessing one of the greatest accomplishments in American Sports: the completion of the Triple Crown. Only eleven horses have won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes — the three races that make up that vaunted title. Some names of Triple Crown winners are more memorable than others, but let’s take a look at three of the most notable.

Sir Barton


Sir Barton was the first horse to win the Triple Crown, when he won the Belmont Stakes in 1919. Originally, Sir Barton was just supposed to be the pacemaker for a higher regarded horse named Billy Kelly, but that all changed when Sir Barton won the Triple Crown by five lengths. He never trailed in any of the races he competed in, but somehow Sir Barton never really got the recognition he deserved.

His legacy was somewhat marred when he lost a match race against the famous Man o’ War. Sir Barton had some hoof problems that were compounded by the track’s hard surface, which led to his seven length loss to Man o’ War. Still, being the first ever Triple Crown Winner is something Sir Barton could be very proud of.

War Admiral


Though Man o’ War never won a Triple Crown, he did have the pleasure of beating a Triple Crown Winner and of fathering another one, War Admiral. War Admiral inherited his father’s winning spirit, but was physically smaller than him. But, his relatively small size didn’t stop him from winning 21 of his 26 starts, including a Triple Crown.

But much like Sir Barton, despite being a Triple Crown winner, War Admiral is most famous because of his connection to another horse. War Admiral raced against Seabiscuit — War Admiral’s nephew and the grandson of Man o’ War — in the Pimlico Special match race. Also, like Sir Barton, War Admiral lost this match race.

Seabiscuit won by four lengths and broke the track record. I’m sure quite a few people lost money on that race. If you thought anything was a sure thing, you’d think it’d be a Triple Crown winner. It’s almost enough for you to give up on horses and switch to casino gambling.


Unlike Sir Barton and War Admiral, Secretariat is not better known for any losses than he is for his Triple Crown victory. This is for two reasons. First, he didn’t have a match loss to any famous horses and second, he absolutely dominated his Triple Crown races.

He is famous for starting races from behind and overtaking the leader on the final stretch. And when he overtook the leader, he really overtook them. He was the first horse to break two minutes at the Kentucky Derby and still has the track record there. He went on to run the fastest race ever at the Preakness and to win the Belmont Stakes by an unheard of 31 lengths.

Secretariat’s dominance can be traced to the historic racehorse, Eclipse, who died in 1789. Eclipse, a horse Secretariat was directly related to, was found to have a heart twice the weight of normal horses after his death. Secretariat was found to have a similar condition, which is known as the “x-factor.” If there seemed like there was something larger than life about this horse, well, that’s because there kind of was.

Scott Huntington is a sports-history buff. Follow Scott at @SMHuntington and check out his blog,



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