“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
The Triple Crown season is drawing to a close and after next Saturday we will turn our attention to the mid-summer classics and the road to the Breeders’ Cup. Since the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984, we have been graced with many great championship seasons, but perhaps the greatest of them all occurred last year, as American Pharoah not only won the Triple Crown, but he also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
No other horse in the history of the Breeders’ Cup has achieved such a feat.
To put that into perspective: Triple Crown darlings and Breeders’ Cup Classic champions such as Sunday Silence, Unbridled, Alysheba and Curlin (among many others) could not match the historic season that American Pharoah enjoyed last year. The one thing they do have in common, however, is that they all participated in Triple Crown races, which begs the question: Are Triple Crown races an important stepping stone to finding a Breeders’ Cup champion?
The answer to this question is “yes…” and “no.” It depends on the context.
Let me explain. On paper, you will see that 15 horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic after participating in the Triple Crown at some point in their careers:
Considering that there have only been 32 editions of the Breeders Cup Classic, 15 winners out of 32 races seems like a decent number. However, if you look at it from a devil’s advocate’s point of view you can say that there have been 17 winners out of 32 races that did not run in a Triple Crown race:
What does history tell us about Triple Crown participants and their chances for Breeders’ Cup glory? Some of the results may surprise you.
- Six horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (as three-year-olds) after running in the Kentucky Derby the same season:
- Four horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (as four-year-olds) after running in the Kentucky Derby the previous season:
- Only one horse has won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (as five-year-olds) after previously running in the Kentucky Derby:
So, let’s tie it all together. Using the aforementioned data, we can conclude:
- There have been 11 Breeders’ Cup Classic winners since 1984 who had previously participated in the Kentucky Derby.
- Out of the 11 winners, eight of them participated in all three Triple Crown races (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes).
- Out of the eight winners that participated in all three Triple Crown races, only four of them were three-year-olds:
- There are two horses who will be running next Saturday (barring a setback) that will have raced in every Triple Crown race in 2016:
We will finish up our walk through history by looking at the four horses that raced in just one of the Triple Crown events and turned around and won a Breeders’ Cup Classic.
- Two horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (as three-year-olds) after running only in the Preakness Stakes in the same season:
- One horse has won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (as three-year-olds) after running only in the Belmont Stakes in the same season:
- One horse has won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (as four-year-olds) after running only in the Belmont Stakes the previous season:
As we begin our journey towards the Breeders’ Cup you need to remind yourself that just because a horse participated in a Triple Crown race doesn’t automatically make it a Breeders’ Cup shoo-in. What we witnessed last season with American Pharoah should be appreciated and not taken for granted. Just ask the connections of the 17 other horses that won the Breeders’ Cup Classic after not competing in a Triple Crown race.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of US Racing.