Racehorse royalty: Belmont Park could see first Triple Crown in 36 years

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affirmed

Affirmed pulls ahead to cross the wire against Alydar during the 1978 Belmont Stakes. Affirmed's win secured for him the prestigious Triple Crown of U.S. thoroughbred racing. (Photo: Belmont Stakes)

(PIX11) – It’s been more than a decade since a thoroughbred was in the running to win horse racing’s prestigious Triple Crown, a remarkable feat that is within reach for one colt racing at this year’s Belmont Stakes.

The Triple Crown calls on horses to win three races (the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes), at three different distances (1 ¼ mile, 1 3/16 mile, 1 ½ mile), in the span of five weeks.

No horse has completed the trifecta since 1978, when Affirmed was crowned horse racing royalty at Belmont Park.

affirmed

Affirmed pulls ahead to cross the wire against Alydar during the 1978 Belmont Stakes. Affirmed’s win secured for him the prestigious Triple Crown of U.S. thoroughbred racing. (Photo: Belmont Stakes)

For nearly the entire race, the chestnut colt galloped neck-in-neck with Alydar, another chestnut descended from a common ancestor with Affirmed and the favorite to win during Affirmed’s Triple Crown season.

“Affirmed went right to the front and was rated along the lead while remaining well out from the rail. He responded readily when challenged by Alydar,” the 1978 Belmont Stakes results card reads.

Alydar “came out to go after Affirmed with seven furlongs remaining, raced with that rival to the stretch, reached almost even terms with Affirmed near the three-sixteenths pole but wasn’t good enough in a stiff drive,” the card continues.

Winning by a head, Affirmed’s final time was 2:26 4/5, the third-fasted in Belmont history.

Many believe the win can be attributed to a slight change in the final stretch: Because Affirmed and Alydar were so close, Affirmed’s jockey had to switch switch his whip from his right hand to his left hand. That strike on the left side may have been enough to give Affirmed the final push he needed, experts say.

Just 10 horses – including the iconic race horse Secretariat, whose stride is immortalized in the Belmont Park paddock – won all three legs of the U.S. Triple Crown before Affirmed.

On June 7, California Chrome will attempt the feat.

The 3-year-old colt is the fifth horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness since 2000.

His run at Belmont briefly was in jeopardy over a nasal strip, a device purported to open a horse’s airwaves during a race and decrease the change of bleeding in the animal’s lungs. California Chrome wore the strips during his wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Nasal strips were not listed among the approved devices for Belmont racing, until mid-May when the New York Racing Association’s gaming commission voted to allow them.

If California Chrome secures the third jewel on June 7, he’ll be draped in a carnation blanket, a spread dotted with 700 Colombian carnations glued by hand in a five-hour process. Winners of the Belmont Stakes get to keep for a year a solid silver cup made by Tiffany and Co. with the 1869 winner, Fenian, astride on top supported by three horses at the bottom.

Even if California Chrome doesn’t win, horse racing experts and fans say just the chance of a Triple Crown win is enough to accelerate excitement for the race from a trot to a full gallop.

Triple Crown by the numbers:

  • First running of Belmont Stakes:
  • First winner: 1919, Sir Barton
  • Last winner: 1978, Affirmed
  • Total Triple Crown winners: 11
  • Races to win: 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby; 1 3/16-mile Preakness; 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes
  • Horses that were Triple crown hopefuls but lost at Belmont: 21
  • Longest gap between Triple Crown winners: 36 years
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