The Kentucky Derby And Doubtful Destiny
How likely is a Triple Crown awarded in consecutive years?
American Pharoah, the most recent Triple Crown winner, was only the twelfth horse in 141 attempts to accomplish the amazing feat of winning all three racing "jewels" from the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Additionally, his 2015 three-race win was the first time the title had been bestowed since 1978, when Affirmed completed the sweep.
What made Affirmed's accomplishment even more remarkable was that it duplicated the feat by Seattle Slew in 1977, which came only four years after Secretariat dazzled the racing world in 1973, ending the drought that began in 1949. If not for Spectacular Bid’s third-place finish in the 1979 Belmont, there would have been an unprecedented three consecutive Triple Crown winners, and a total of four in a decade.
That would have rivaled the heyday of Triple Crown winners in the 1940s. Specifically, Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) and Citation (1948) were all distinguished champions. The 1930s similarly provided horse racing fans with plenty of excitement, with three Triple Crown winners: Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935) and War Admiral (1937). All totaled, seven of the 12 Triple Crown winners took their titles in an 18-year span.
Similar Athletic Feats
It's certainly difficult to draw a different sports comparison to back-to-back Triple Crown winners, since this achievement revolves around an individual accomplishment by two distinct athletes working in tandem (the horse and jockey).
Perhaps the closest comparison would involve baseball’s Triple Crown in batting. In 2012, Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers), ended the drought since 1967, when Carl Yastrzemski (Boston Red Sox) won the Triple Crown. Interestingly, that followed Orioles’ Frank Robinson’s feat the previous year. That marked only the second time in baseball history that this spectacular milestone was accomplished. It also happened in 1933 and 1934.
American Pharaoh Ends The Drought
Since 1981, 13 horses have captured the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, but have come up short in the grueling 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes, the longest of three races. Two of the attempts have taken place in the last three years.
After the most recent failed attempt by thoroughbred California Chrome (winner of the Derby and Preakness races) in 2014, disgruntled owner Steve Coburn proclaimed the feat may never be accomplished again. He publicly declared there should be a rule change, forcing any Belmont participant to race in the two previous legs, effectively preventing a fresh horse from being the spoiler at Belmont.
2016 Kentucky Derby And Beyond
Enough history: Who are the contenders to win the Kentucky Derby this year on May 7?
At this time, the heavy favorite is Nyquist (named after Detroit Red Wings Gustav Nyquist) who hails from the same barn (Doug O’Neil) and owner (J. Paul Reddam) as previous winner I’ll Have Another. I'll Have Another's attempt at the Crown was mysteriously ended the day before the Belmont, when the team decided to scratch, citing tendonitis.
It's hard to argue against Nyquist having the best shot to win the Kentucky Derby. After all, the colt was the two-year old champion, winning the 2015 Breeders Cup as well as the 2015 Eclipse Award.
The horse is undefeated in seven races – the most recent being an impressive 3 1/4-length win in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 2. His time was a blazing 1:49.11.
Betting On The Favorite
However, any veteran wagerer knows that betting on the favorite isn't always the most rewarding proposition. Although favorites have won in back-to-back Derbies, the favorite has crossed the wire first in only seven of the last 37 races, dating back to Spectacular Bid’s win as the favorite in 1979.
Therefore, when leaning toward laying off the favorite or a mount to pair with Nyquist in an Exacta, look no further than the Arkansas Derby winner, Creator. Perhaps he can follow in the footsteps of American Pharoah, who cruised to an Arkansas victory in 2015.
In extremely impressive fashion, Creator came from dead last and an astounding 12 lengths back and circled the entire field of 11 horses on his way to victory. With up to 20 horses being in the field for Derby Day, whomever the early pace-setters are, they will certainly have to contend with stampede of late-closers to the finish line.
Another horse to include in some combos is the Santa Anita Derby winner, Exaggerator. The colt had an impressive come-from-behind victory, pulling away by 6 ¼ lengths on a muddy track. Keep in mind that the winner of the Santa Anita Derby has been victorious in two of the last three Derbies (I’ll Have Another in 2013 and California Chrome in 2014).
Dream Alive For Two More Weeks
Whether the victor is Nyquist, Creator, Exaggerator, or some other horse who wins the Run For The Roses, one thing will be certain: The pursuit of the rare feat of back-to-back Triple Crown winners will be alive for at least two more weeks, when we’ll get to enjoy the running of the Preakness Stakes on May 21.
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