Although the three races composing the Triple Crown of the United States - the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes - all came into existence from the 1860s to the early 1870s, it wasn't until 1919 that the Triple Crown series was officially inducted. When Sir Barton, a three-year-old chestnut thoroughbred colt, managed to win all three abovementioned races in the 1919 season, he not only was awarded the title 'Horse of the Year', but he also unwittingly founded the United States Triple Crown series. Every horse, every trainer and every jockey was from now on chasing the unprecedented achievement of Sir Barton. However, it was another eleven years until the first official Triple Crown Champion could be crowned when Gallant Fox managed to repeat the triple winning performance.
In the ninety years of United States Triple Crown history only eleven horses have managed to become champions: 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).
The Kentucky Derby is arguably one of the most famous thoroughbred horse races in the world, even those completely unaffiliated with the racing world have heard of this race. This race takes place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs Racecourse in Louisville Kentucky; and it was in fact consciously modelled on the example of English races such as the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger Stakes. The distance of the Kentucky Derby is 1 ¼ miles and it will celebrate its 136th running in 2010 (having been inaugurated in 1875). The speed record for the Kentucky Derby has been untouched since 1973, when the legendary contender (and 1973 Triple Crown Champion) Secretariat completed the race in one minute and 58.40 seconds.
The Preakness Stakes are held at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore, Maryland on the third Saturday in May - exactly two weeks after the running of the Kentucky Derby. The race was introduced in 1873 and named in honour of the colt Preakness, who won the very first race held at the Pimlico location on its opening day. The Preakness Stakes run over a distance of 1 3/16 miles. The very first running of the Preakness Stakes established a record 10 lengths win by the first ever Preakness winner Survivor, which remained untouched until 2004 when Smarty Jones took the win at the race with 11 ½ lengths to spare.
The Belmont Stakes are the final leg of the United States Triple Crown, as well as the oldest and longest of the three races. The race, which is held at Belmont Park Racecourse at Elmont, New York, was inaugurated in 1867 and runs over a distance of 1 ½ miles. It takes place on the first or second Saturday of June, three weeks after the running of the Preakness Stakes. In 2008 the Belmont Stakes, which has the reputation of being the most gruelling and exciting of the three races, was the scene of great disappointment when Big Brown, the winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, narrowly missed the win and failed to become the first US Triple Crown champion in 30 years.