The English Triple Crown Series refers to the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and St. Leger races that take place annually. Winning one of these races is tough enough; if a horse wins all three in the same calendar year then its name is guaranteed to go down in the annals of racing history. There are Triple Crown events all over the globe but the UK version is the one that started it all.
The term ‘Triple Crown’ could be said to have entered the UK racing scene in 1853 when West Australian became the first horse to win the above all 3 races in the same year. As a consequence, the horse was given a Triple Crown trophy in recognition of a remarkable achievement.
Incidentally, the term ‘Triple Crown’ is occasionally used to describe a filly that wins the St. Leger, Epsom Derby and the 1,000 Guineas. The Oaks Stakes is the last of the 5 ‘Classics’ for 3-year-old thoroughbreds in the UK. However, since The Oaks and 1,000 Guineas are for fillies only, the Triple Crown can only be made up of the other trio of Classics.
Below, we briefly take a look at the history of the three individual races before analysing the history of the Triple Crown itself.
This is the ‘newest’ of the Triple Crown events having first been run in 1809; the original guaranteed prize fund was 2,000 Guineas, hence the name of the race. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown and also the first of the 5 Classics to be run each year. The race is exactly 1 mile long and takes place on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile in late April or early May. Each horse carries 9 stone weight with fillies given a 3 pound allowance.
Sir Charles Banbury, in conjunction with the Jockey Club, helped establish the race and the inaugural event was won by a horse called Wizard.
List Of Records
- Top Jockey: Jem Robinson who rode 9 winners between 1825 and 1848.
- Top Trainer(s): John Scott & Aidan O’ Brien with 7 winners apiece; Scott between 1842 and 1862, O’Brien between 1998 and 2015.
- Top Owner: Sue Magnier with 8 winners between 1997 and 2015.
- Largest Margin of Victory: Tudor Minstrel by 8 lengths in 1947.
- Quickest Time: 1 minute 35.08 seconds by Mister Baileys in 1994.
- Largest Field: 28 runners in 1930.
- Smallest Field: 2 runners in 1829 &
- Shortest Odds Winner: Frusquin at 12/100 in 1896.
- Longest Odds Winner: Rockavon at 66/1 in 1961.
Other Notable Races
One of the great things about the 2,000 Guineas is the type of horse the race attracts. As well as the specialist milers, trainers may enter sprinters in an attempt to see if they are capable of lasting the distance. The champion 2-year-olds will be entered as a means of judging their ability to improve while horses that will race over longer distances could be entered if their connections believe the horses are capable of sustaining a rapid 1 mile pace.
The combination of entrants has led to some memorable races over the years. The 1947 romp by Tudor Minstrel is undoubtedly one of the great 2,000 Guineas performances but Frankel was utterly sensational in the 2011 as he obliterated the field before easing off for a facile victory.
The 1868 race was a dead heat between Formosa and Moslem while the 1971 event saw My Swallow and Mill Reef compete against one another; these two horses were the top ranked juveniles the previous year and were expected to be first and second respectively. As it happened, Brigadier Gerard surprised everyone by coasting past the duo and winning by a comfortable 3 lengths.
The 2015 race was won by Gleneagles; the event had a prize fund of £450,000 with the winner receiving just over £282,000. The 2016 event is set to be held at Newmarket on 30 April.
The Epsom Derby
This is the second race in the Triple Crown series and takes place at Epsom Downs in early June each year; the event is run over 1 mile 4 furlongs & 10 yards. Horses carry the same weight with the same fillies allowance as the 2,000 Guineas and the race is run on a left-handed track.
The first Derby was run in 1780; the idea for a new race was formed at a party which followed the 1779 Oaks Stakes. It was decided that the race should be named after the party’s host the 12th Earl of Derby. It is said that Sir Charles Bunbury was unlucky as the name was decided by a coin toss between him and the Earl; whether or not this is actually true has never been verified. Yet Sir Charles didn’t fare too badly as the Bunbury Cup was also formed and his horse Diomed won the first ever Epsom Derby.
The first few Derby races took place over a mile but in 1784, the distance was changed to 1.5 miles. The starting point of the race changed twice during the 1800s and in 1991, it was discovered that the actual race distance was 1 mile 4 furlongs and 10 yards.
In the early years, the Derby was run on a Thursday in late May/early June but was changed to Wednesdays in 1838 as a means of matching the railway schedule. It was run on the first Wednesday in June from the early 1900s until 1995 when it was moved to Saturdays for commercial reasons. Incidentally, from 1915-1918 and 1940-1945, the Derby was actually run at Newmarket.
List of Records
- Top Jockey: Lester Piggott with 9 winners between 1954 and 1983.
- Top Trainer(s): Robert Robson (from 1793 to 1823), John Porter (1868-1899) and Fred Darling (1922-1941); all had 7 winners.
- Top Owner(s): Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor who were joint owners of 6 winners from 2001 to 2014.
- Largest Winning Margin: 10 lengths by Shergar in 1981.
- Quickest Time: 2 minutes 31.33 seconds by Workforce in 2010.
- Largest Field: 34 runners in 1862.
- Smallest Field: 4 runners in 1794.
- Longest Odds Winners: 100/1 on 3 occasions; Jeddah in 1898, Signorinetta in 1908 and Aboyeur in 1913.
- Shortest Odds Winner: Ladas at 2/9 in 1894.
Other Notable Races
The most infamous Derby occurred in 1913 when suffragette Emily Davison died after throwing herself in front of Amner, the horse owned by King George V. Tragic 1921 winner Humorist was found dead in his stable a few weeks after his triumph. It was determined that he had chronic tuberculosis and had won the Derby with just one lung functioning properly!
Queen Elizabeth II’s runner Aureole was beaten by Pinza in the monarch’s Coronation year (1953); it was a memorable victory because it was Sir Gordon Richards’ first Derby win in his long and illustrious career. The legendary Sea Bird II stole the show in 1965 with a brilliant performance while the remarkable Nijinsky took the honours in 1970 on the way to his Triple Crown.
In 1981, Shergar destroyed the field as he eased up at the finish and still won by a record 10 lengths.
Golden Horn won the 2015 event which had a first prize of over £751,000 in a prize fund of £1,325,000; it is the richest race in the UK in terms of prize money. The 2016 event is set to take place on 4 June.
St. Leger Stakes
This is the final leg of the Triple Crown events and takes place at Doncaster Racecourse in September. Like the other two races, each horse carries 9 stone with fillies given a 3 pound allowance. The event takes place over 1 mile 6 furlongs and 132 yards on a left-handed track which makes it the longest of the 5 Classics.
It is also oldest of the Classics and was established by Anthony St Leger, a politician and army officer who lived near the town of Doncaster. The first race took place in 1776 and was won by a then unnamed filly who was later given the name Allabaculia. The ‘St Leger Stakes’ was the name given to the race in 1777 (it was called A Sweepstake of 25 Guineas in 1776) and it was run over 2 miles until 1813 when it was cut to 1 mile 6 furlongs and 193 yards.
The event was held at Newmarket during World War I and at these courses during World War II; Thirsk, Manchester, Newmarket and York.
List of Records
- Top Jockey: Bill Scott with 9 wins from 1821 to 1846.
- Top Trainer: John Scott (Bill’s brother) with 16 winners from 1827 to 1862.
- Top Owner: Archibald Hamilton with 7 winners from 1786 to 1814.
- Quickest Time: 3 minutes and 0.44 seconds by Masked Marvel in 2011.
- Largest Winning Margin: 12 lengths by Never Say Die in 1954.
- Largest Field: 30 runners in 1825.
- Smallest Field: 3 runners in 1917.
- Longest Odds Winner: Theodore at 200/1 in 1822.
- Shortest Odds Winner: Galtee More at 1/10 in 1897.
Other Notable Races
Zanga was the 1789 winner but was disqualified for jostling so Pewett was awarded the win. The 1850 event was extremely exciting as it ended it a dead heat. However, a ‘run off’ was used to determine the winner and Voltigeur defeated Russborough.
In 1902, the filly Spectre won the event and became the only horse to ever win 4 Classics in the same season. Only a bruised foot prevented a clean sweep as the injury hampered her and yielded a 4th place finish in the Epsom Derby.
Never Say Die cruised to a record 12 length victory in 1954 while Provoke won with almost as much ease in 1965 with a 10 length win. Nijinsky overcame ringworm to complete the Triple Crown at the St Leger in 1970 while Shergar was surprisingly beaten in 1981 when Cut Above took the glory.
The 1989 event had to be moved to Ayr because of drainage problems at Doncaster. Simple Verse won the 2015 event which had a first prize of over £368,000 as part of a £650,000 prize fund. The 2016 event is due to take place on 10 September.
Winning the Triple Crown is a truly remarkable achievement; not only because of the quality of the opposition, but also due to the fact that the races are run so far apart. Keeping a horse in prime condition from April until September is an incredibly though feat as is enabling it to peak until the 2,000 Guineas and Derby and then regain form for the St Leger several months later.
This is perhaps why there have only been 12 recognised Triple Crown winners with the Nijinsky the last in 1970. Although Pommern (1915), Gay Crusader (1917) and Gainsborough (1918) are all Triple Crown winners, their achievements are sometimes discounted as the races took place during wartime years when the events were not run at their usual courses.
Here is the list of all 12 recognised Triple Crown winners in chronological order:
- West Australian (1853)
- Gladiateur (1865)
- Lord Lyon (1866)
- Ormonde (1886)
- Common (1891)
- Isinglass (1893)
- Galtee More (1897)
- Flying Fox (1899)
- Diamond Jubilee (1900)
- Rock Sand (1903)
- Bahram (1935)
- Nijinsky (1970)
You will notice that there have only been 2 Triple Crown winners since Rock Sand in 1903. Indeed, there has only been one notable ‘near miss’ since 1931; Camelot finished second to Encke in the 2012 St Leger Stakes after winning the 2,000 Guineas and Derby earlier that year.
The Triple Crown remains the Holy Grail of thoroughbred racing but the standard of horses available today means winning all 3 races in a single season is almost the stuff of fantasy in the modern era. Indeed, very few trainers even bother to attempt this remarkable feat.
There have been no winners in over 45 years and only Camelot has really come close. Of course, this will not prevent trainers from dreaming of immortality as they prepare their steeds for the three jewels in the crown of British thoroughbred flat racing.