How many Triple Crown champions have there been?

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Answered by: Peter, An Expert in the Triple Crown Category
The Triple Crown. Sports writers call it one of the most difficult awards in sports - so difficult that only 12 horses have become Triple Crown champions, and many more have failed in the attempt.

It consists of the Kentucky Derby - a mile and a quarter race filled with 22 three-year-old horses all bumping into each other and running for their lives for the finish line. It's followed only two weeks later by the Preakness Stakes, a mile and three-sixteenths long, which further saps a horse's strength. Finally, the Belmont Stakes, three weeks later, is a grueling one-and-a-half mile trial that tests whether a horse is able to be called a Triple Crown winner.

Sir Barton was the first of the 12 Triple Crown champions. Back then, it wasn't even called the Triple Crown - he just happened to win all three races. By the time Gallant Fox won it in 1930, horse racing fans were starting to call it by its true name, and when Gallant Fox's son Omaha won it in 1935, followed by Man O' War's son War Admiral in 1937, it was thought to be pretty simple to do.

The 1940s did nothing to deny that fact; during that decade, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, and Citation all won the Triple Crown. Count Fleet won it in the middle of a war, Assault won it with a clubbed foot, and the great Citation became the first horse to win more than $1 million.

Then - nothing. For a quarter of a century.

Many came close - great horses such as Native Dancer won two of the three races in 1953 - but it wasn't until 1973 that the immortal Secretariat put an end to the 25-year-drought. He handily won all three races in record time. He was followed by Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978, and once again sports writers thought the Triple Crown was an easy thing to do.

Spectacular Bid almost did it in 1979, but stepped on a safety pin before the Belmont and finished third. That was the beginning of the longest Triple Crown drought in history - 37 years. Horse after horse won two of the three races, only to falter in one of them. Real Quiet was winning by three lengths coming into the close of the Belmont Stakes in 1998, but saw his lead slowly evaporate. He lost the Triple Crown by a nose.

The same thing happened to Smarty Jones. Winning entering the homestretch of the Belmont, he tired and came in second by one length.

Finally in 2015, we saw another true champion emerge. His name was American Pharoah, and he came into the Derby the favorite to win. Not only did he win the Derby, but he won the other two races as well, taking the Triple Crown for the first time in almost four decades. Since then, no one has come close.

When will we see the 13th winner? Who knows? The next Triple Crown winner may have already been born. And we'll be ready to watch.

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