Winning the American Triple Crown of horse racing is sometimes referred to as one of the most difficult feats in sports. The facts bear out this assertion. But is the task as hard to achieve as winning the English Triple Crown? While there has been an American Triple Crown winner 11.8 percent of the time–beginning with Sir Barton’s inaugural win in 1919–the English Triple Crown has been won in just 9.4 percent of the years since its inaugural in 1853.

Ten additional colts have replicated Sir Barton’s sweep of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. Affirmed was the last to do so, in 1978. In the 1970s, winning the American Triple Crown looked as though it might be too easy, as there were champions in 1973, 1977, and 1978.

The first winner of the English Triple Crown was named West Australian. The last winner was Nijinsky in 1970, so it has been 41 years since there was an English Triple Crown winner. Before 1970, there had not been a winner since Bahram in 1935.

In the 159 years of the English Triple Crown, only 15 colts have swept the three races: the 1 mile 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in late April or early May; the 1 1/2 mile plus 10 yards Epsom Derby at Epsom Downs in June; and the 1 3/4 mile plus 132 yards St. Leger at Doncaster in September. Moreover, there won’t be a winner again this year because the sensational Frankel, who won the 2000 Guineas, is not contesting the Epsom Derby.

The only colts to win both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby since 1989 were Nashwan and Sea the Stars. No winner of the Epsom Derby has even been entered in the St. Leger since 1987. By contrast, in the 33 Triple Crown seasons after Affirmed won the American Triple Crown, eleven colts have won the first two jewels only to come up short in the Belmont.

The conditioning obstacle to winning the American Triple Crown is keeping a colt fit over a period of five weeks. Albeit the English Triple Crown is spread out over nearly five months, which allows for sufficient rest between races, the second and third jewels are contested at distances of over 1 ½ miles and 1 ¾ miles, respectively.

American winners of both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness have often faltered at the 1 ½ mile Belmont distance, but at least they failed while trying. European trainers have frequently not given their charges a chance to run in all three races of the English Triple Crown, evidently particularly fearful of their colts’ stamina to stay the 1 ¾ mile-plus distance of the St. Leger.

In the case of the American Triple Crown, the major reason there has not been a winner in 33 years is that the Belmont distance has taken its toll. In the case of the English Triple Crown, the main reason there has not been a winner in 41 years is that some talented colts like Sea the Stars have not been able to show what they could do at the St. Leger distance of 14 furlongs plus 132 yards.

Which Triple Crown is more difficult to accomplish is arguable. However, if the past is prologue, odds are that there will be a twelfth winner of the American Triple Crown before there is a sixteenth winner of the English Triple Crown.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business


  1. Hal Dane says

    It has been possible for a horse to win the English Triple Crown Races, for 200 years.
    There should have been two earlier winners of this series, before West Australian in 1853.
    These were Cotherstone in 1843 and Sir Tatton Sykes in 1846.. if it wasn’t for the stupidity of their jockeys.

  2. White Camry says

    There are two simple reasons why Sea The Stars’ trainer John M. Oxx skipped the 2009 St. Leger:

    1) Money.
    2) Timing.

    The St. Leger is run in the second week of September for a purse of £306,586 in 2009; it’s only some three weeks after that until the much more lucrative Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe (£2,219,029 in 2009) at Longchamp.

    The past, not the future, is the only thing keeping the St. Leger in its Grade 1 rating. Unless the British racing authorities find a sponsor to beef up the purse, this race which established the Triple Crown tradition will fall into obscurity. Its German equivalent has already slipped down Grade 3 status, which is why German racing hasn’t produced its own Triple Crown winner since Konnigsstuhl in 1979.

  3. White Camry,

    If the Arc is why the top colts don’t run in the St. Leger, then you are basically saying that there will never again be an English Triple crown winner.

  4. Hal Dane says

    At least the German Jockey Club have not ruined their St Leger Stakes, by opening it up.. to older horses.. like the Irish, Italians and the French, even the Polish have followed suit !!.

  5. White Camry says


    There won’t be unless one of three factors happens:

    1) The St. Leger is given a purse to match the Arc’s.

    2) One race or the other is shifted say a week or so further away to provide the rest-time needed to run in both.

    3) A renegade owner of a future Sea The Stars ignores his trainer’s pleas and enters his horse in the St. Leger.

  6. White Camry says

    Hal Dane,

    The Gospel According to St. Wiki says the Deutsches St. Leger was opened to 3yo+ horses in 2007.


    Apparently, the general consensus in Europe is that the Arc is the autumn race to run.

  7. Hal Dane says

    Well, Well.. the Germans are also showing bad
    disrespect to this classic race, which was started at Wambel racecourse when Kiaser Bill was a big racingfan.. it’s an utter disgrace.

    Re:- The ARC.. it is the stud potential of the winner, for the first five years, until his first crop of three-year-olds hit the turf, that is attractive to the owners, not the prizemoney.

  8. White Camry says

    Hal Dane,

    It’s the stud potential of the winner of a £2,219,029 race for the first five years, until his first crop of three-year-olds hit the turf, that is attractive to the owners.

    Contrast that with the potential stud value of the winner of a £306,586 race – or of a $5,000 claiming race.

  9. Hal Dane says

    I don’t understand the last line of your message.

    If the Arc was worth £2.220.000 to the winner,
    that is small fry to the future stud fees.
    If his future stud fee is £50.000 and he covers
    just 50 mares.. that comes to £2.500.000
    then you have the following four years…
    But I’m sure he will cover more than 50 mares in
    first seasom at stud, probably 80 mares.
    The 2006 St Leger winner Sixties Icon certainly
    made over £2.000.000 in his first stud season.

  10. White Camry says

    Hal Dane,

    How much more could Sixties Icon’s owners have charged in stud fees in his early breeding years if he’d won the Arc?

  11. Hal Dane says

    Hi, Camry.,

    That is correct… the name of the ARC on his CV,
    is advertising value.. that is why they all want to win it.. it’s not the prizemoney they are after.