Best of the ‘Test’: How American Pharoah Stacks Up Against Triple Crown Winners


This story was originally published in 2015. Watch the 2017 Kentucky Derby on NBC Saturday at 6:20 p.m. ET.

A Triple Crown victory is a rare triumph. 

Since Sir Barton managed the feat in 1919, only 11 other horses have ever won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in the same year, according to the race's website.

On Saturday, American Pharoah won the 1½-mile Belmont in 2:26:65 minutes, capping his wins at the Derby and the Preakness and ending a record 37-year drought without a Triple Crown champion.

But how would the new champion of American horse racing stack up against his predecessors in the Belmont? Here's a look at all 12 Triple Crown winners to see who would win a best-of-the-best matchup in the so-called "Test of the Champion" compiled from the Belmont Stakes website.

The Winner: Secretariat (2:24:00, 1973)

Secretariat not only took the Triple Crown after 25 years without a title winner, his 2:24 finish also set a Belmont record that to this day has never been broken. Secretariat utterly conquered the field, crossing the line 31 lengths ahead of runner-up Twice a Prince. Secretariat was honored as the Horse of the Year a year before his historic Triple Crown victory, which was a rarity for two-year-old horses. After the 1973 Triple Crown, Secretariat competed in nine more races, winning six, placing second twice, and coming third only once.

2) Affirmed (2:26:48, 1978)

Affirmed's final time for the Belmont Stakes was the third-fastest in history. The horse was best known for his rivalry with Alydar, who matched strides with the Triple Crown hopeful from the mile pole at the top of the stretch in a tense 1978 Belmont race. The Belmont Park crowd held its collective breath as Alydar and Affirmed dueled over the homestretch, battling for supremacy until Affirmed did just that for a Triple Crown win.

3) American Pharoah (2:26:65, 2015)

American Pharoah delivered a victory for Egyptian-born owner Ahmed Zayat, who bred the colt and put him up for sale before buying him back for $300,000. His name came courtesy of the family's online contest, in which a woman from Missouri submitted the winning moniker. The misspelling — normally it's "pharaoh" — went unnoticed until the name was already official.

4, tie) War Admiral (2:28:12, 1937)

Son of the renowned purebred Man o' War, the mighty War Admiral made it to the finish line three lengths ahead of second-place Sceneshifter —  but his win came at a cost. "The Admiral" had been rowdy at the race's start, repeatedly crashing through the gate and delaying the race for nine minutes. He sliced off a piece of his right front heel after he stumbled at the break, leaving behind a trail of blood as he ran.

4, tie) Count Fleet (2:28:12, 1943)

Count Fleet's owner John D. Hertz, founder of the rental car company, disliked his horse's rambunctious nature, but Hertz was unsuccessful in his attempts to sell the thoroughbred. Hertz's opinion of his horse changed, however, when he watched Count Fleet win the Triple Crown by 25 lengths — a record that stood for 30 years until Secretariat's run.

4, tie) Citation (2:28:12, 1948)

On the day of the 1948 Belmont Stakes, Citation was a 2-5 favorite. The crowd watched in surprise as the bay stumbled at the beginning of the race — but Citation fought back, surging into the lead on the turn. He hit the wire five lengths in the lead, tying his time with War Admiral and Count Fleet. Citation became the first racing millionaire with a bankroll of $1,085,760 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959.

7) Seattle Slew (2:29:36, 1977)

A breeding manager called Seattle Slew "ugly" when the colt was born because he had no white markings and big, floppy ears. The colt was rejected several times based on his appearance and unimpressive pedigree. Cast off, he was eventually bought by two young couples from Washington. Slew raced on a muddy track in the 1977 Belmont Stakes and proved his doubters wrong, becoming the first horse with an undefeated record to win the Triple Crown.

8) Omaha (2:30:36, 1935)

Omaha suffered a setback when the gates opened on a sloppy track in 1935. His jockey, Willie Saunders, was able to quickly calm down Omaha and get the racehorse back on track to become the third Triple Crown winner by a 1½-length margin.

9) Assault (2:30:48, 1946)

At first glance, Assault was not the pinnacle of a healthy, winning race horse: He suffered from kidney problems, had a misshapen hoof, weighed less than 1,000 pounds and was, overall, a petite contender in a field dominated by big horses. When the liver chestnut ran, however, it was described as flawless. While Lord Boswell was the favorite for that year's Belmont Stakes, Assault made it to the wire with three lengths to spare.

10) Whirlaway (2:31:00, 1941)

Whirlaway was no prize to his jockey, Eddie Arcaro, who called the chestnut "not the best, but the runningest". The chestnut's signature move was running off to the outside of the track to make wide turns. In fact, in 1940, Whirlaway hit an outer rail before winning the Saratoga Special. On the day of the Belmont Stakes, Arcaro let Whirlaway go to the front with a mile to go, allowing the team to win by a 1½ margin.

11) Gallant Fox (2:31:36, 1930) 

During practices, the affable horse loved to be with company and often set out with a team of horses — none of whom could never keep up with Gallant Fox. Jockey Earle Sande had come out of retirement to ride Gallant Fox, who gave Sande his third Derby victory and won the Belmont Stakes by three lengths. 

Also ran: Sir Barton (2:17:24*, 1919)

Sir Barton was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes before "Triple Crown" was even coined. He was a notoriously cranky colt who disliked humans and had soft feet which caused him to lose shoes during races. When Sir Barton won the Triple Crown in 1919, the length of the race was shorter by an eighth of a mile.

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