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Will a Horse Win the US Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in 2019?

By Gary Garry in Sports
| March 13, 2019 12:00 am PDT
Triple Crown of Racing 2019

Now that spring has sprung, all eyes in the horse racing world are focused on the upcoming 2019 Triple Crown series.

To determine if there will be a Triple Crown winner this year, you have to find a solid statistical angle, and we’ll attempt to do that here.

But first, it’s important to take a look at the race from a historical overview.

General trends over a large sample size are quite relevant when you are determining probabilities from a purely mathematical standpoint.

A Rare Occurrence

The Belmont Stakes is the final leg of the American horse racing Triple Crown series, but it was the first of the three to be inaugurated in 1867. The Preakness Stakes came next in 1873, and the first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875.

We will be seeing the 145th renewal of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. The Preakness wasn’t run for a few years in the 1890s, so the 2019 installment will be number 144.

This year, the Belmont Stakes will be held for the 151st time, because there was no race in 1911 and 1912.

When you deduct the years that did not have all three jewels up for grabs, there has been a Triple Crown on the line 140 times. There have been just 13 Triple Crown winners, so over the years, there has been a Triple Crown winner 9.29% of the time.

Clearly, from a purely statistical standpoint, it is unlikely that we will see a Triple Crown winner in 2019.

This being stated, if you drill down a bit deeper, the prospect looks more promising.

The Winners Come in Clusters

Although there have only been a relative handful of horses that have been able to capture all three legs, some time periods have been fertile.

Sir Barton was the first horse to take home the Triple Crown in 1919. There was then a ten-year drought before Gallant Fox won all three jewels in 1930.

Between 1935 and 1948, there were six Triple Crown winners: Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, and Citation.

The next Triple Crown winner was the great Secretariat, who pulled off the hat trick in 1973. Seattle Slew joined the club in 1977, and Affirmed wore the coveted crown the very next year.

That flurry came to a screeching halt in 1979, but it was a near-miss. Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and he led at the top of the stretch in the Belmont, but he faded and finished third.

American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018

After the 1970s, it looked like it somehow got a lot easier to capture the Triple Crown. In retrospect, nothing could be further from the truth.

There were zero Triple Crown winners for the next 37 years. This is kind of strange because a contender won the Derby and the Preakness nine times from 1997 to 2014.

The tenth time was the charm. In 2015, American Pharoah, who was trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza, completed the toughest task in American horse racing.

American Pharoah went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic as a three-year-old. This made him the only horse in history to win the Grand Slam, which is the Triple Crown and the Classic in the same year.

Nyquist captured the Run for the Roses in 2016, but he faltered in the Preakness, and he didn’t make the starting gate for the Belmont. Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby the next year, but he too came up short at Pimlico, and his connections scratched him out of the final leg.

In 2018, Bob Baffert had a promising three-year-old named Justify that was unraced at two. He won his first two races as a sophomore, and those performances earned him a spot in the Santa Anita Derby.

Justify came away with a three-length score, and Churchill Downs was his next stop. He romped home in the front of the Derby field, and he went on to become the 13th winner of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

2019 Triple Crown Contender – Game Winner

When you digest all of the information I have shared to this point, it is very difficult to predict a Triple Crown winner, even after all the preps have been run. At the time of this writing, the Kentucky Derby is seven weeks away.

Anyway, I’m going to take a stab at it and boil it down to one horse that would appear to have what it takes to win the 2019 Triple Crown.

The favorite in the futures has been two-year-old champion Game Winner. This Candy Ride colt is trained by Bob Baffert — you know, that guy that has saddled Triple Crown winners twice in the last four years.

He was undefeated at two, winning a maiden special weight contest before capturing three Grade I Stakes: the Del Mar Futurity, the American Pharoah Stakes, and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Game Winner was scheduled to make his first start of this year in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, March 9th, along with a number of other Triple Crown hopefuls. Sadly, the track was closed indefinitely on March 5th because of safety concerns, so the San Felipe didn’t happen.

Now, it would appear as though he is going to make his 2019 debut in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas, this Saturday, March 16th.

I’m singling out this horse as a legit Triple Crown winner in part because of his success to this point and his human connections. That being stated, the tipping point for me was one eye-opening statistic.

Five of the last six Triple Crown winners, including American Pharoah, won the American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse award. Granted, the one exception was Justify last year, who didn’t run at all at two.

In spite of the 2018 anomaly, if a runner is going to get the nod this far in advance, it has to be undefeated juvenile champ Game Winner.

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