Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

Horse Racing’s Triple Crown

The National Basketball Association’s season was the first domino to fall. Over the last few months, COVID-19 has put a stop to tons of sporting events. One in particular, the 146th-annual Kentucky Derby, was scheduled for this Saturday, May 2nd. It’s the first time the race has been rescheduled since 1945.

The first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown is now slated for September 5th. The Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, originally scheduled for May 16th and June 6th respectively, have been postponed indefinitely.

The Triple Crown

Horse racing’s Triple Crown is an award given to a three-year-old thoroughbred that successfully wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes in a single season. Though racing has grown less popular in recent decades, winning all three events is still considered one of the most impressive and prestigious achievements in all of sports, with only 13 horses ever accomplishing the feat.

By 1876, all three races had become annual traditions and, in 1919, Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner. “Triple Crown” was not an official designation, however, until Gallant Fox won all three in 1930. Historians credit the Daily Racing Form’s Charles Hatton with popularizing the term as a way to refer to these three races specifically. Previously, members of New York’s racing community had used it for a trio of races in their home state, and many actively avoided signing up for races elsewhere. The Derby, in particular, was regarded as both too far west and too early in the year. Legendary thoroughbred Man O’ War is just one likely winner whose owner kept it out of the race.

The Triple Crown Trophy was introduced in 1950 and retroactively awarded to the 8 winners that predated it. Secretariat became the first horse to officially win the trophy in 1973, setting long-standing records along the way. Today, the three races occur over six weeks and spectators eagerly anticipate an unlikely Triple Crown win.

Kentucky Derby

Though it’s known today as The Triple Crown’s first leg, the Derby was actually introduced last. It is, however, the only of the three races to occur each year since its inception. As such, “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” is also regarded as the country’s oldest continuously-occurring sporting event.

Date: First Saturday in May
Distance: 1.25 Miles
Location: Churchill Downs (Louisville, Kentucky)
First Running: May 17, 1875
Prize: The Kentucky Derby Trophy

Preakness Stakes

The shortest of the three races is often called “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.” Winning horses are draped in a blanket, but it’s not really made from Maryland’s state flower. That’s because the race occurs several months before the flowers begin to bloom across the Old Line State. Today, those “black-eyed Susans” are actually similarly-colored viking poms.

Date: Third Saturday in May
Distance: 1.1875 Miles
Location: Pimlico Race Course (Baltimore, Maryland)
First Running: May 27, 1873
Prize: The Woodlawn Vase

Belmont Stakes

Nassau County, New York hosts the oldest and longest of the Triple Crown races. Over the years, 23 horses have missed on the Triple Crown Trophy by losing at Belmont. The dramatic stakes (and often disappointing results) have earned the race a fitting nickname, “The Test of Champions.”

Date: Third Saturday after the Preakness
Distance: 1.5 Miles
Location: Belmont Park (Elmont, New York)
First Running: June 19, 1867
Prize: The August Belmont Trophy

If scheduling tradition holds true, race fans can expect the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes to take place on September 19th and October 10th.