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Monday 20th May 2024

Triple Crowns and Tiaras: A Guide to Global Racing Hat-Tricks

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Comparable to winning all four Grand Slams in tennis or doing a soccer
Treble of league, domestic cup, and Champions League, the Triple Crown is considered the pinnacle of horse racing achievement.

However, when we say “the” Triple Crown, the term can be a bit misleading. We should be really talking of a Triple Crown, as each horse racing nation will have their own version. Indeed, when we throw in specialist versions for fillies, we can see that some nations have multiple Triple Crowns.

Of course, to an American, there is but one Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes combine to create one of the most sought-after prizes in sports and also one of the biggest horse racing betting events in the world.

13 horses have won the US Triple Crown – officially called the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing – and that includes all-time legends like Seattle Slew and Secretariat. It seems to be getting tougher, though, as only American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018) have won all three since Affirmed secured the hat-trick in 1978. You can also aim for a Grand Slam, which includes the Breeders’ Cup Classic or Travers Stakes. Just two horses have achieved that, American Pharoah and Whirlaway.

The Triple Crown Began in England

The creation of the Kentucky Derby – the 1st leg of America’s Triple Crown – was inspired by Merriweather Lewis Clark Jnr’s travels to Europe, notably Epsom in England, the site of the Epsom Derby. The Derby, as it is known, has been run since 1780 (predating the Kentucky Derby by almost a century).

 It is in England where the term Triple Crown first emerged in 1853 when West Australian won the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby and St Leger. 15 horses have won the English Triple Crown and none since Nijinsky in 1970.  

Australia is one of the biggest racing powerhouses in the Anglosphere, and its Triple Crown is interesting as it isn’t the most prestigious accolade for trainers to aim for. The Triple Crown consists of the Randwick Guineas, Rosehill Guineas, and the Australian Derby.

However, it is arguably eclipsed by the Spring Grand Slam – winning the Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, and Melbourne Cup. Only one horse has ever achieved it, Rising Fast in 1954. To be frank, though, most don’t try in the modern era. Most aim for “the Double”, combining the Melbourne Cup and Caulfield Cup.

Nearly every major horse nation on Earth has a variation of the Triple Crown. Some, such as Ireland, are effectively copies of the English system with the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Irish Derby and Irish St Leger. That’s no slight on the Irish, of course, as the small island nation is arguably, pound for pound, the greatest horse racing nation in the world.  In Japan, too, the Derby, Guineas and St Leger format is copied, although they go by different names via their translations.

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The French have chopped and changed the three races in their Triple Crown down the years, although it is worth pointing out that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe has never been considered a Triple Crown race. Argentina has gone one better than most nations by adding an extra leg to its system, making it a Quadruple Crown.

Fillies Triple Tiara Is Often Unofficial

Several nations have Triple Crown races for fillies, which have become known as Triple Tiara. In the United States, there has long been an attempt to formalise an annual Triple Tiara, and there have been several variations of it, including a New York-centric version and one that includes the Kentucky Oaks.

The British, too, have a separate Triple Crown for fillies, but again, it is somewhat less official. One of the issues with having separate “crowns” for fillies is that many fillies will run in the blue-chip events. Three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby in the past, for example.

The above is just a small slice of how different nations approach the pinnacle of horse racing. Each will have a different style and emphasis on different areas. But one thing that unites them is that they are very tough to win. A Triple Crown-winning horse is usually a once-in-a-generation type, regardless of whether it comes from the US, UK, or beyond.