CRAWFORD | Ranking the fastest Triple-Crown winners - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Ranking the fastest Triple-Crown winners

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Secretariat. AP file photo. Secretariat. AP file photo.

ELMONT, N.Y. (WDRB) — Nothing could be more misleading than comparing finishing times of horse races. So let's do it anyway.

A thoroughbred race track is rarely the same from one race to the next, let alone one day to the next, or comparing times over decades. Speed figures were made for this, in an effort to represent how fast horses run, eliminating some of those various factors.

But we don't have reliable speed figures for old races, let alone reliable times.

When Secretariat ran the Preakness in 1973, the electronic timer malfunctioned, recording Secretariat's winning time at 1:55. Clockers from the Daily Racing Form caught him in 1:53 2/5. Officials at the time acknowledged the problem with their timer and awarded him a time of 1:54 2/5.

In 2012, Maryland Racing Commission members, using newer technology and videos of the race, officially set Secretariat's winning time at 1:53.

And that's just one race!

Still, we have a set of data, and it might be instructive as we look through the records. A lot is made of speed in horse racing. People tend to forget, however, that some of the great Triple Crown names of yesteryear didn't run blazing Kentucky Derbies. In fact, the average Derby time of the 11 Triple Crown winners is 2:04.164 seconds.

American Pharoah, who will try to win the Triple Crown in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, for instance, has been criticized for his relatively pedestrian Derby-winning time of 2:03.2. But that's roughly the same time run by War Admiral. His combined Derby-Preakness times of 4:01.66 also are the same as War Admiral, and American Pharoah traveled over a sloppy track in the Preakness.

What did I learn when looking at times of the Triple Crown winners?

Not many had off tracks. Omaha had an off track in the Belmont, as did Affirmed. Citation won the Preakness on a track rated “heavy.” Assault's 2:06.6 time in the 1946 Kentucky Derby was mitigated by sloppy track.

At any rate, I wanted to look at these times to determine, of these storied horses, who were the fastest? (Note: Sir Barton, who won the first Triple Crown in 1919, ran two of the three legs at different distances from the rest, so his times weren't ranked with the others.)

Here are the top five:

1. SECRETARIAT. It wasn't even close. He holds record times in all three legs of the Triple Crown, and his combined time for the three races is six seconds faster than the next competitor.

2. AFFIRMED. His 1:54.4 in the Preakness matches the second-fastest for any Triple Crown winner, and his 2:26.8 in the Belmont over a muddy track also is impressive.

3. SEATTLE SLEW. Score one for the modern winners. They completed the series faster than any combination of their older counterparts. Seattle Slew, also, ran a 1:54.4 in the Preakness, three seconds faster than the other Triple Crown winners outside of Secretariat and Affirmed. (American Pharoah, by comparison, ran the Preakness in 1:58.46 over a sloppy track.)

4. COUNT FLEET. Remarkably, he actually was injured before the 1943 Kentucky Derby, but won it anyway with the sixth-fastest winning time among Triple Crown winners. He then dominated the Preakness by eight lengths and the Belmont by 25 (after winning the Withers in between). That margin stood as the Belmont record until Secretariat beat it in 1973.

5. WAR ADMIRAL. The son of Man o'War in some ways raced in the shadows of his more famous sire. He delayed the start of the 1937 Kentucky Derby for eight minutes, but once he was ready to start, he led from wire to wire. At the Belmont, he stumbled at the start and cut about a quarter inch off his left right hoof, but still led wire to wire in what was then a course-record time of 2:28 3/5. He led all three legs of the Triple Crown wire-to-wire.

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