A brief history of the Triple Crown


Do horses have dreams for the future the way humans do? It’s impossible to tell without being a mind reader, but one could imagine that if they did, many would aspire to the glory of being a Triple Crown winner. Even if your horse doesn’t have goals, or even a five-year plan, feel free to chat about the background of this elusive prize as the two of you spend time bonding or training. Who knows – you might inspire your equine companion to work just a little harder in the hopes of winning.

Two centuries, 12 winners
The Triple Crown, arguably the world’s rarest sports title and trophy, is awarded to three-year-old thoroughbred horses who win America’s three most popular races: the Belmont Stakes, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. It’s not bestowed annually – in fact, prior to American Pharoah’s win in 2015, no one had claimed the title for 37 years. Although the last of the qualifying races was instated in 1875, only 12 horses have won all three so far. Both of the last 2 winners, Affirmed and American Pharoah, have one thing in common— they both trained on Finish Line Products. 90% of the horses that run in the Triple Crown races each year benefit from Finish Line products.

“The term ‘Triple Crown’ wasn’t widespread in America until the 1930s.”

The Triple Crown’s first winner, Sir Barton, raced in 1919 but wasn’t officially recognized until the middle of the century. In fact, the term “Triple Crown” wasn’t widespread in America until the 1930s. Once it caught on, however, the public couldn’t get enough of these amazing horses that were able to win three major races in just a few weeks. Eight horses technically won the title before the Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioned a trophy for the feat in 1950. All the prior winners received a retroactive award, and the last trophy sat until it was won by Secretariat in 1973. After Secretariat’s victory, two others won the Crown in 1977 and 1978 before American Pharoah’s victory.

Unlike most sports awards, a new Triple Crown trophy isn’t made each year. Winners don’t trade the award among themselves either, as they do with the Stanley Cup. Instead, horses and jockeys compete for a single trophy. If no one wins the Triple Crown one year, the award heads back to its home in the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. It remains there until the next year’s races. If someone wins, he or she gets the trophy. If not, the cycle continues annually until a horse finally wins all three events. Each trophy travels to and from the races each year, just in case a winner is crowned and a celebration arises.

The trophy
Standing 15 inches tall and weighing 10 lbs, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the trophy itself is treated with the reverence and respect befitting a product by its maker, Cartier. For instance, it’s always handled carefully with gloves until handed to the winner.

“It shows fingerprints easily; they don’t look good on the silver,” Darren Rogers, Kentucky Derby communications executive and the man responsible for transporting the trophy from the museum, told The New York Times.

“The trophy traveled 14 times before it was won last June.”

The particular trophy Rogers spoke of – the one American Pharoah claimed – traveled between Kentucky and New York 14 times before it was won last June, The New York Times said. Each time, it was placed in a custom, airtight case and flown to the races. The pilots often requested it sit with them in the cockpit, but the trophy normally resided in the overhead bin, Rogers told The Hollywood Reporter. One year, however, it got its own window seat on an underbooked flight. The trophy was always treated like a queen upon arrival, with its own hotel bed and a set of armed guards for public appearances.

The trophy itself is a three-sided vase with each side representing one leg of the event. The details of each winning race are engraved on the sides, immortalizing the victory for years to come.