When Patrice Wolfson celebrated her horse, Affirmed, becoming the 11th Triple Crown winner in 1978, she never imagined how exclusive that club would become.
Thoroughbred racing is still waiting, three decades later, for a 12th horse to sweep through the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
"With three horses winning (it) in the '70s, " Wolfson said, referring to Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, "it just looked as though perhaps it was starting to get a little easy. I had no idea that it would ever take this long."
The waiting could end Saturday.
Big Brown has won the first two jewels of the Crown in easy fashion and enters the Belmont as the prohibitive favorite in the field of 10. But in the past three decades, 10 other talented colts have come into the Belmont with a chance at a historic win only to come up short.
"It's a little bit surprising we haven't had a Triple Crown winner (since '78), " said Jerry Bailey, a Hall of Fame jockey and now an analyst for ESPN. "But there's been various reasons why we haven't."
Some were probably training goofs. Some were jockey error. Some could be traced to breeding. Sometimes, maybe the better horse won. Here's a look at the Triple Crown near-misses in the past 30 years:
Bid not only stepped on a safety pin the morning of the race, but got a poor ride from Ronnie Franklin and weakened. Coastal was coming off a huge win in the Peter Pan at Belmont Park.,Summing hugged the rail and moved to the lead on the far turn. Although Pleasant Colony seemed well positioned, he didn't fire. Summing held off a fast-finishing Highland Blade by a neck.
Bet Twice, second in the Derby and the Preakness, blew past a pair of pacesetters at about the mile mark and was never challenged, winning by 14 lengths. Alysheba ran fourth essentially all the way.,After a riveting loss by a nose in the Preakness when Sunday Silence rallied, Easy Goer and jockey Pat Day stayed just behind Sunday Silence but surged past him on the turn for home and won by 8 lengths.
Gary Stevens had a seemingly flawless ride to put Silver Charm in the lead into the stretch, but Touch Gold, the second choice, swung four wide and overtook Silver Charm and Free House for the win.,Kent Desormeaux accelerated too early, opened up 4 lengths then the horse eased up without a challenger only to be nipped by a nose at the wire by the Derby and Preakness runnerup.
Charismatic was brushed at the start, but sat comfortably in second then took a head lead with a quarter-mile to go. He dug in but got beat. Unfortunately, he pulled up just after the finish with an injured left leg.,The speedy War Emblem stumbled out of the gate, bumped Magic Weisner and just wasn't the same horse he had been in the Derby and Preakness.
Funny Cide led for the first mile, but wasn't bred for distance and couldn't hold off Empire Maker. The winner was the Kentucky Derby favorite, for a reason; he was second there and skipped the Preakness.,Jockey Stewart Elliott, not a regular at Belmont Park, probably moved his horse a little too soon for a 1½-mile (and not 1-mile) track. Instead of having about a quarter-mile to go, he had three-eighths and got run down.
Horse: Spectacular Bid | Finish: 3rd | Spoiler: Coastal
Horse: Pleasant Colony | Finish: 3rd | Spoiler: Summing
Horse: Alysheba | Finish: 4th | Spoiler: Bet Twice
Horse: Sunday Silence | Finish: 2nd | Spoiler: Easy Goer
Horse: Silver Charm | Finish: 2nd | Spoiler: Touch Gold
Horse: Real Quiet | Finish: 2nd | Spoiler: Victory Gallop
Horse: Charismatic | Finish: 3rd | Spoiler: Lemon Drop Kid
Horse: War Emblem | Finish: 8th | Spoiler: Sarava
Horse: Funny Cide | Finish: 3rd | Spoiler: Empire Maker
Horse: Smarty Jones | Finish: 2nd | Spoiler: Birdstone