A Tribute to the First Triple Crown Winner
The level of excitement generated for the Belmont Stakes was largely driven by the hope that California Chrome would become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Affirmed’s victory in 1978, but to the disappointment of many, this was not the outcome. Tonalist crossed the finish line in first place, followed by Commissioner, Medal Count, and the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner finished the race in fourth place.
The result of this year’s Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing serves as a reminder of the fact that this championship is a challenge to the best of horses, and highlighting the extraordinary qualities of past winners, their trainers and the jockeys who rode them to victory. Sir Barton went down in American horseracing history as the winner of the first Triple Crown in 1919. Trained by Hall of Fame trainer Harvey Guy Bedwell, and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Loftus, Sir Barton was a chestnut thoroughbred colt sired by Star Shoot out of Lady Sterling and foaled at Hamburg Place Farm near Lexington in 1916. He failed to win any of the six races he competed in during his two-year-old season and was sold to Canadian businessman J.K.L. Ross in 1918.
When Sir Barton was entered in the Kentucky Derby in his three-year-old season it was as a pacemaker for stable-mate Billy Kelly. But Sir Barton took off and led the 12-horse field from the starting gates to the finish line, with a five length victory. Four days later he won the Preakness Stakes by four lengths, winning the Withers Stakes in New York, before winning the Belmont Stakes, clocking up four significant wins in just 32-days. He also set the record for the mile-and-three-eighths Belmont Stakes at the time.
Sir Barton won five of the twelve races he competed in during his four-year-old season and then retired to stud. Although the Triple Crown as we know it today was only established after 1923, Sir Barton’s fantastic achievement is widely accepted as being the first Triple Crown victory. It would be eleven years before the next Triple Crown champion would surface. Gallant Fox, trained by Jim Fitzsimmons and ridden by Earl Sande, won the championship in 1930. Subsequent winners include Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978).