When Spectacular Bid failed to complete his Triple Crown bid in 1979, it didn’t seem like that big a deal. Surely another would be coming soon.
After a gap of 25 years between Triple Crown champs, Secretariat became a national hero by turning the trick in record-breaking fashion in 1973. He was soon followed by Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.
There hasn’t been one since.
Nineteen horses have won at least two legs of the Triple Crown in the last 36 years. Several dominant 3-year-olds have had their misses in the Kentucky Derby. Risen Star was third in the 1988 Derby, trainer Bob Baffert still laments Point Given’s fifth-place finish in the 2001 Derby, and Afleet Alex was third in the Run for the Roses in 2005.
But California Chrome is the 13th horse since Affirmed to come to Long Island with a chance to claim racing’s most elusive prize. A brief look at each of the previous dozen.
■ 1979: Spectacular Bid, third to Coastal. Stepped on a safety pin the morning of the race.
■ 1981: Pleasant Colony, third to Summing by a length and a half.
■ 1987: Alysheba, fourth to Derby and Preakness runner-up Bet Twice, who won the Belmont by 14 lengths.
■ 1989: Sunday Silence, second to Derby and Preakness runner-up East Goer, who won the Belmont by 8 lengths.
■ 1997: Silver Charm-Second to Touch Gold by ¾ of a length.
■ 1998: Real Quiet, second to Derby and Preakness runner-up Victory Gallop by a nose. A second-straight heartbreaker for Baffert, this one in a photo after Real Quiet led by four lengths at the eighth pole.
■ 1999: Charismatic, third to Lemon Drop Kid, the D. Wayne Lukas trainee pulled up after the finish line with a broken leg.
■ 2002: War Emblem, eighth to 70-1 shot Sarava after stumbling out of the gate.
■ 2003: Funny Cide, third to Empire Maker on a sloppy track.
■ 2004: Smarty Jones, second to Birdstone by a length. It looked for all the world like the unbeaten Philadelphia Park-based underdog was going to do it, leading with a quarter-mile to go before being overtaken by the Nick Zito-trained Birdstone.
■ 2008: Big Brown, ninth to Da’Tara. A dominant winner in both the Derby and the Preakness, the unbeaten Rick Dutrow-trainee struggled to settle throughout the race on a day in the mid-90s, had a displaced shoe, and was eased up by jockey Kent Desormeaux as he headed into the stretch, the only horse to finish last in a Triple Crown bid.
■ 2012: I’ll Have Another, scratched the day before the race. He was scratched with an injury to a leg tendon and never raced again.
Time put together new stories.
So now it’s left to California Chrome. Will lucky 13 end the drought and become the 12th Triple Crown champ?
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Louisville TV station WDRB. Tom Lane writes for WDRB.
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