The Triple Crown

A series of three Thoroughbred horse races that have run yearly in May and June since 1875, the “Triple Crown” includes the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. A horse winning all three races receives the Triple Crown Trophy. Eleven have won the Triple Crown, including War Admiral in 1937, Citation in 1948, Secretariat in 1973 and Seattle Slew in 1977. There has not been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

The Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland and the Belmont Stakes is held at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby has run continuously since 1875.

It is a major event in Louisville, something to look forward to after basketball season ends (for better or worse).

The spires of Churchill Downs

The spires of Churchill Downs

Traditional moneyed fans dress in classic attire: men in cutaway coats, striped trousers and top hats, ladies in bright or floral-patterned dresses and spring hats. These Millionaire’s Row fans sip bourbon (straight or iced in a mint julep) and feast on burgoo, Hot Brown or Benedictine sandwiches, perhaps finishing with a slice of Derby Pie. Traditional music includes Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home”. Each year’s victor is draped in a garland of 500 red roses in the winner’s circle.

The first Derby winner, Aristides, received a prize of $2,850 in 1875. The 2013 winner, Orb, was awarded $1.4 million.

There are two historical Kansas connections to the Kentucky Derby.

A Kansas-born thoroughbred named Lawrin won the Derby on 1938. The legendary jockey Eddie Arcaro rode him to the first of Arcaro’s five Kentucky Derby wins. Lawrin lived to the age of twenty and is buried on the 200-acre Woolford Farm in Johnson County, Kansas. Over the years that land was developed into what is now the sprawl of Prairie Village. His gravesite is still visible in the Mission Road & Somerset area.

Another connection, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton became the youngest jockey (15) to win the Kentucky Derby in 1892. Clayton was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1876. He had a successful racing career in the 1890s with three more Kentucky Derby appearances and in the Preakness in 1896. Increasing prejudice against African Americans after 1900 closed doors to professional horse racing to black jockeys. By 1905 his racing career was essentially over and he died in 1917 at age 41 of tuberculosis. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

The Preakness Stakes

Begun in 1873, it is second leg of the Triple Crown.

Oxbow051813-01 from Preakness-com 2013

Oxbow, winner of the 2013 Preakness

Present-day Preakness traditions include the Alibi Breakfast, where over 500 breakfast at Pimlico on the Thursday morning before the race. Food traditions include Maryland’s famous Chesapeake Bay crab presented in a number of ways, as dip or in crab cakes. The Black-Eyed Susan is the official drink. The recipe has changed over the years but an old-time formulation included triple-sec, rum and vodka topped off with orange and pineapple juice, garnished with a lime wedge. The winning horse is blanketed with Black-Eyed Susans, flowers symbolic of the black and gold colors of the Maryland state flag. Winners are presented with the Woodlawn Vase, the most valuable artifact in American sports, created by Tiffany and Company in 1860 (for a different horse race), it weighs almost 30 pounds. The popular InfieldFest concerts features major touring groups. Scheduled to perform at musical events in 2014 are Lorde, Counting Crows and The Fray.

The first Preakness winner, Survivor, received a prize of $2,050 in 1873. The 2013 winner, Oxbow, won $600,000 of a $1 million purse.

The Belmont Stakes

The Belmont, known as The Test of Champions, is the final race of the Triple Crown and the longest at 1.5 miles. First run in 1867, it is the oldest of the Triple Crown races.

The Belmont might be the most casual of Triple Crown events. It’s usually too hot for bulky dresses, suit coats and wool trousers.

Traditions: some old, some new. The Belmont now uses the Frank Sinatra rendition of “New York, New York” as a theme song, replacing “Sidewalks of New York” in the 1990’s. The signature drink for many years, the White

Citation at the Belmont Stakes

Citation at the Belmont Stakes

Carnation, was replaced with the Belmont Breeze, a concoction of American blended whiskey, sherry, lemon juice, syrup, orange juice, cranberry juice, lemon-lime soda and club soda garnished with a lemon wedge and sprig of mint. The Belmont Stakes winner is draped in a blanket of 400 white carnations and receives an elaborate trophy created by the Tiffany and Company in the 19th century that features a silver bowl supported and crowned by silver horses. The winning owner may keep the trophy until surrendering it to the next champion.

The first Belmont winner, Ruthless, received a prize of $1,850 in 1867. The 2013 winner, Palace Malice, won $600,000 of a $1 million purse.

* * *

Browse the library’s collections for more on horse racing. A good place to start would be Horse Racing’s Top 100 Moments by the staff of Blood-Horse Publications from 2006 and The Jockey Club’s Illustrated History of Thoroughbred Racing in America with text by Edward L. Bowen.

Your last encounter with horse racing may have been the book or movie Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand.  British mystery readers enjoy the novels of Dick Francis, set in the world of English horse-racing.

Matt Pettit

Matt is a Public Service Specialist for the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library. His areas of responsibility include outreach library services to nursing homes, senior, retirement and congregate living centers; service to homebound library users; the Kansas Talking Books service; Book Group in a Bag program and the history and sports neighborhoods of the library’s nonfiction collection. With a background in public administration, conflict resolution and aging, Matt works on civic engagement and civil discourse issues for the library and serves on the advisory board of the Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging.