Between 1948 and 1973, no horse won the Triple Crown. The drought was even longer between Affirm’s Triple Crown in 1978 and American Pharoah’s in 2015. But these 25-year and 37-year gaps are misleading because Triple Crown victories have come in bunches. Three horses won the Triple Crown in the 1930s, four in the 1940s, three in the 1970s, and two more in the most recent four years. That’s twelve of the 13 Triple Crown champions.

One hundred years ago in 1919, Sir Barton became the first colt to sweep the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont, although the terminology “Triple Crown” did not emerge until the 1930s. Thus Sir Barton was crowned a Triple Crown winner in retrospect, but not at the time he actually achieved the feat.

How challenging is it to win the Triple Crown?  There are two ways to look at it and they yield much different answers.

First, 100 years of Triple Crown history transpired between Sir Barton’s initial Triple Crown win in 1919 and Justify’s in 2018. Thirteen Triple Crown winners in this span of time computes to a success rate of 13% (the percentage is higher, of course, if an adjustment is made for the years in which the Kentucky Derby winner did not compete in the Preakness and/or Belmont). Most people would agree that a 1 in 7.7 chance of winning anything constitutes uphill odds but certainly would not qualify as extraordinary. Thirteen percent does not equate to a unique accomplishment, though it seemed that way when no horse conquered the Triple Crown for 25 years (1948-1973) and then 37 years (1978-2015).

The second way to look at Triple Crown success makes it seem to be an almost impossible task. Jockey Club records show that 2,076,789 Thoroughbred horses were registered in North America between 1916 (when Sir Barton was foaled) and 2015 (when Justify was foaled). This does not include foreign-bred horses that ran in American Triple Crown races, but that number is relatively insignificant. Therefore, only 13 horses from about 2.1 million horses registered between 1916 and 2015 won the Triple Crown (.0000062). This is rare beyond rare. Even if one assumes that half the registered Thoroughbreds were fillies, who don’t ordinarily run in Triple Crown races, 13 Triple Crown champs from 1.4 million male foals is a very, very small percentage.

If someone asks how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown, the answer depends on how you do the math.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business


A dictionary defines propaganda as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” A great deal of what is held out as journalism today fits this description, with opinion often presented as hard news and objective analysis. Many newspapers have resorted to sensationalism in an attempt to stay in business in the face of intense competition from talk radio, cable TV, blogs, social media, podcasts, and online publications.

A case in point: In the aftermath of the disqualification of Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the Washington Post ran a wildly one-sided rant by award-winning sports writer Sally Jenkins titled “Forget Maximum Security’s misstep; the whole of horse racing is a foul.” Ms. Jenkins condescendingly took it upon herself to render a moral judgment about the countless fans who follow horse racing, many of whom don’t even gamble, and the thousands of hard-working and animal-loving people involved in the industry, by derisively opining: “This isn’t a sport; it’s a fancied-up vice.”

Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, partied at a 2019 Derby-eve gala and appeared to be enjoying the festivities, so he was part of the vice-seeking crowd his employee Ms. Jenkins rails against.

Some of the world’s most accomplished people and generous philanthropists have bred and raced horses–and still do–and would no doubt be chagrined to learn that their horse-related endeavors have been nothing more than “a fancied-up vice.”

Slanderous hyperbole is apparently a stock in trade for Ms. Jenkins. To illustrate, she published an accusatory article in the Washington Post in August 2018 under the headline “Prehistoric college football coaches are killing players. It’s past time to stop them.” Talk about supercilious exaggeration and broad condemnation of an entire occupation. 

Another shallow article that was obviously timed to detract from Kentucky Derby 2019 and its traditions was a politically correct diatribe by columnist Joseph Gerth in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Under the caption “Kentucky Derby Anthem ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ is Racist. Don’t Sing It,” Mr. Gerth charged that Kentucky’s beloved official state song “celebrates slavery.” His mindless op-ed coincided with the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Flyers banning Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” over her unpardonable sin of recording a song in the 1930s that is racially insensitive by today’s standards.

When 150,000-plus people sing “My Old Kentucky Home” at the Kentucky Derby, they are innocently expressing affection for the bluegrass state and its emotion-laden signature event on the first Saturday in May…not “celebrating slavery.”

Ironically, the Washington Post and the Courier-Journal were once employers of two of the finest horse-racing writers ever, Andrew Beyer and Jennie Rees.

American horse racing is in dire need of some game-changing and game-saving reforms, no doubt about that, and there are steps that can be taken now, and significant remedial initiatives are being pursued, to increase safety for horses and jockeys and to enhance the sport’s image. But don’t hold your breath waiting for such progress to be reported objectively. Giving credit where credit is due would not fit the intended narrative or attract enough readers.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business

“They ain’t nothin’ until I call ’em.”

2019 is barely four months old and the sports world has seen two of the most game-changing and talked-about calls ever by enforcers of the rules of the game. In one case, the officials were accused of an error of omission and in the other case of commission. Another way to put it is a non-call in the first instance and a call in the second instance.

On January 20, 2019, the New Orleans Saints played the Los Angeles Rams for the right to go to the Super Bowl. With a minute 45 seconds left to play in regulation, the game was tied but the Saints were driving deep in Rams territory for the likely game-winning field goal or touchdown. On perhaps the most disputed play in NFL history, Rams defensive back Nickell Rohey-Coleman ran face first into Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis near the sidelines. The referees failed to call two blatant infractions: pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact, and the Saints ended up losing in overtime. The NFL admitted the non-calls were mistakes (and changed the rules) but that was no consolation to Saints fans.

Interestingly, the Saints are owned by a prominent horseracing breeder and owner, Gayle Benson of GMB Racing.

Then, on May 4, 2019, the ostensible winner of the Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security, was disqualified for interfering with several horses during the race, though the winner, Country House, was not impeded. Unlike the Saints-Rams game, the Derby was decided by an officials’ decision rather than by a non-call.

The officials’ ruling in the Kentucky Derby was more debatable than the referees’ non-call in the NFL playoff game. Even Rams fans could see that the referees erred whereas in the Derby opinions are more divided on the stewards’ interpretation and application of the rules.

Two of the most infamous officiating decisions in sports history, coming within months of one another, bring to mind the apocryphal story of the three baseball umpires conversing about how they call the game. The first said, “I call them as I see them.” The second, “I call them as they are.” The third, “They ain’t nothin’ until I call ’em.” 

The third umpire’s candid admission is true of officiating in all athletic events… and rules changes and public outcry will never alter that fact.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business