CRAWFORD | Triple Crown: Five who should have won it - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Triple Crown: Five who should have won it

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — When another shot at the Triple Crown rolls along, talk inevitably turns to the near-misses.

Generally speaking, if a colt (or filly) is able to win the first two legs but can't win the Belmont, the general consensus becomes that it wasn't meant to be, the horse just wasn't great enough.

Most of the time, that's true. But there are a handful who were great enough, they just encountered a little bad luck, or questionable decision making, or a combination of the two. Here's my list of horses that one could make an argument should have won the Triple Crown — noting that the horses have to have competed in at least two of the races, and preferably all three.

Note, this is NOT my list of best horses not to win the Triple Crown. I'll include a couple of those after my top five below.

1. MAN O' WAR. He's the only one on my list that didn't compete in all three legs. He won the Preakness by 1 1/2 lengths but played with the field, setting a track record for one mile before cruising home the final furlong. In the Belmont, then run at 1 3/8 miles, he won by 20 lengths and set another track record. Voted the No. 1 U.S. racehorse of the 20th century by a panel from The Blood Horse magazine, he didn't compete in the Kentucky Derby because his owner, Samuel Riddle, didn't like running in Kentucky, and believed the race came too early in the year to run a mile and a quarter. The Triple Crown really only began one year earlier, in 1919, when Sir Barton became the first horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Had his connections known what it would become, they probably would've competed in the Derby, too. And won it. (As Riddle did years later, with Man o' War's son, War Admiral, who went on to take the Triple Crown.)

2. NATIVE DANCER. The Gray Ghost was the first thoroughbred to become a TV star. He won 21 of his 22 career races, and the only loss came in the Kentucky Derby, after he was bumped twice, once at the start and another time in the stretch, and was beaten a head by longshot Dark Star. His jockey, Eric Guerin, was widely criticized for not keeping him out of trouble in the 11-horse field. He went on to narrow victories in the Preakness and Belmont.

3. SPECTACULAR BID. It's said that a safety pin might've derailed a third straight Triple Crown in 1979, after Spectacular Bid had won the Kentucky Derby by 2 3/4 lengths and the Preakness by 5 1/2 despite being bumped early and running wide the entire race. In the days when questions were being asked about whether the Triple Crown was “too easy,” his jockey Ronnie Franklin, when asked if the colt could win the Belmont, said, “We're a cinch.” But on the morning of the Belmont, he stepped on a safety pin, his trainer Bud Delp, later acknowledged. The pin became embedded in his hoof and had to be drilled out some time later, but Delp said he didn't believe it had much effect on the race. Franklin, however, may have. He rode aggressively early and took the lead midway through the race. He still led heading into the stretch, but tired late and wound up finishing third. Franklin was replaced by Bill Shoemaker as regular rider after that, and Spectacular Bid finished his career with 26 wins in 30 starts. He was the American Champion at age 2, age 3, and American Champion Older Horse in 1980, when he also was American Horse of the Year.

4. POINT GIVEN. He won the Preakness by 2 1/4 lengths and the Belmont by 12 1/4 lengths. He finished 13 lengths ahead of the longshot winner of the Kentucky Derby that year, Monarchos. A week before the Belmont was even run, his jockey, Gary Stevens, said, “The Derby defeat is going to be disappointing forever, knowing that racing probably was deprived of a Triple Crown winner.” Plenty of things happened to Point Given that Derby Day, but mainly a track that was incredibly hard and fast never was to his liking. Monarchos, who would not win a race after the Derby, managed to run the second-fastest Derby ever. Point Given faded to fifth, the only time in 13 career starts he would finish out of the money. The Bob Baffert trained colt would, however, go on to sweep the Preakness, Belmont and Travers, becoming only the fourth horse to win all three, along with Man o' War, Whirlaway, Native Dancer and Damascus. He was voted in the the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2010.

5. RISEN STAR. You won't find him on any of the lists of greatest racehorses of the century, but watch the son of Secretariat run the Belmont Stakes and it's hard to believe that in that moment, any three year old was better. Risen Star won the Preakness by 1 1/4 lengths, and captured the Belmont by 14 3/4 lengths, evoking memories of his sire. In the Derby, he went off as the third choice. He started from the rail, never an easy proposition in the Derby, then was forced wide on the backstretch. He closed well, but couldn't make up enough ground to beat the filly Winning Colors. He wound up finishing fifth. Certainly, he wasn't the first not to run his best race on the first Saturday in May. He suffered an injury in the Belmont and was retired after the race, having won eight of his 11 career starts.

As for the straight-up best horses to try the Triple Crown but not win it, the list is long and distinguished, Sunday Silence, Nashua, Damascus, Northern Dancer, and Alysheba among the best. But that's a list for perhaps another time.

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