Horse racing’s Triple Crown was never supposed to be easy but no one thought it would be *this* hard–it’s been 34 years since Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1977 and as I’ll Have Another gets ready for his shot at immortality it’s interesting to see how the Triple Crown compares to difficult accomplishments in other sports.
With the Belmont Stakes coming up this weekend the Daily Racing Form took a look at other sports to find accomplishments that compared with the Triple Crown. They also asked why the Triple Crown has become so difficult–the 34 years since Affirmed’s victory is the biggest drought in horse racing history.
Horse racing expert Tom Hammond was at Belmont Park to witness Affirmed’s victory. In his opinion there are two reasons for the recent difficulty of winning the Triple Crown. First and foremost, a change in breeding philosophy throughout the sport of horse racing to emphasize speed over endurance. A secondary factor in his view is the growing tendency of promising three year olds to skip one or more of the Triple Crown races. This results in a more competitive field for a Triple Crown aspirant to face.
The DRF came up with these accomplishments that compare to horse racing’s Triple Crown in terms of difficulty:
–Baseball Triple Crown: In baseball, the ‘Triple Crown’ refers to one player leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBI’s. There have been 15 players in history to pull this trifecta but none since Carl Yastrzemski 44 years ago. Like its horse racing counterpart there have been numerous ‘close calls’–players have won two of the three categories 40 different times. Pro baseball player turned horse racing analyst with TVG Paul Lo Duca says that the increased specialization of the modern game has made a huge difference as has the tendency to miss action for minor injuries that players would have stayed in the lineup with in earlier days.
–Tennis Grand Slam: Winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open in the same year. Two men and three women have done it, most recently Steffi Graf in 1988. The last man to do it was Rod Laver who did twice (1962, 1969).
–Golf Grand Slam: Winning the U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship and the Masters in the same year. It’s actually never been done but there have been a couple of close calls–Tiger Woods won the US Open, British Open and PGA Championship in 2000 and then won the Masters in 2001. He became the first man to hold all four championships at the same time, a feat dubbed the ‘Tiger Slam’. Golf purists also point to the legendary Bobby Jones who won the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur, and British Amateur in 1930. This was before the Masters existed so he can’t claim the ‘Grand Slam’ under the current definition but it’s still an impressive feat.