Triple Crown Dream Race


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
(Updated to include Justify, last year's TC winner)

I decided to take a look at horse racing’s triple crown. There have been 11 Triple Crown winners: Sir Barton in 1919, Gallant Fox in 1930, Omaha in 1935, War Admiral in 1937, Whirlaway in 1941, Count Fleet in 1943, Assault in 1946, Citation in 1948, Secretariat, (who they have made a movie about- it will be out in October), in 1973, Seattle Slew 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. What if they all had a race? (Seattle Slew twice raced Affirmed. Slew won the first race and finished ahead of Affirmed in the other one, which neither of them won: Seattle Slew - Wikipedia ). Since 11 horses is an odd number, I decided to throw in a 12th- Man O’ War, perhaps the most famous horse of all: Man o' War - Wikipedia

(I have now added in American Pharoah…. I have now added in Justify)

Man O’ War was not entered in the Kentucky Derby because the owner didn’t like they way they raced in Kentucky, (for some reason). He likely would have won it- he won 20 of 21 races and the one time he lost the name of the horse who beat him became a synonym for the victory of an underdog- “Upset”. Man O’ War easily beat Sir Barton in a match race and was universally regarded as the greatest thoroughbred ever until Secretariat.

So how do we “race” them all at once? First, I took note of the distance on the three triple crown races, reducing them to a single unit, feet. The Kentucky Derby has been run at a mile and a quarter since 1896. That’s 6600 feet. The Preakness was a mile and an eighth, or 5940 feet through 1924. After that it was a mile and 3/16th. That’s 6270 feet. The Belmont was a mile and 3/8, (7260 feet) until 1926, when it became a mile and a half. We need to figure out the rate at which all 12 horses traveled those distances.

Sir Barton ran the Derby in 2:09.80. That’s 129.8 seconds. 6600 feet divided by 129.8 seconds is 50.847457 feet per second. He ran the Preakness in 1:51.6 or 111.60 seconds. Divide that into 5940 feet and you get 53.225806 feet per second. He ran the Belmont in 2:17.40, or 137.40 seconds. Divide that into 7260 feet and you get. 52.838427 feet per second. Average those three rates and you get the combined speed with which Sir Barton ran the Triple Crown. I did that for each horse, using only the Preakness and Belmont for Man O’ War:

Sir Barton…………52.303893 feet per second
Man O’ War………52.828983 feet per second
Gallant Fox………..51.847443 feet per second
Omaha …………….52.641140 feet per second
War Admiral………53.134216 feet per second
Whirlaway…………53.057653 feet per second
Count Fleet………...53.216116 feet per second
Assault……………..51.962756 feet per second
Citation…………….52.296200 feet per second
Secretariat………….54.882336 feet per second
Seattle Slew………..53.773870 feet per second
Affirmed…………...54.259006 feet per second
American Pharoah…53.680023 feet per second
Justified…………….53,550580 feet per second

I decided our fantasy race should be over the current Belmont distance, a mile and a half. That’s 7920 feet. At 54.882336 feet per second, Secretariat would run that in 144.31 seconds, (2 minutes 24.31 seconds). At 52.303893 feet per second, how far would Sir Barton have traveled in 144.31 seconds? He’d have traveled 7548 feet, finishing 372 feet behind Secretariat. A “length” is supposed to be about 8 feet, so that’s 47 lengths behind. Here is the final order of finish. I hit the “enter bar” to go to the next line for every length to give a graphic representation of the distances between the horses:

Secretariat 2:24.31

Affirmed 2:25.97 (11 lengths behind)

Seattle Slew 2:27.28 (20 lengths behind)

American Pharoah 2:27.54 (22 lengths behind)

Justified 2:27.90 (24 lengths behind)

Count Fleet 2:28.83 (30 lengths behind)

War Admiral 2:29.06 (32 lengths behind)
Whirlaway 2:29.27 (33 lengths behind)

Man O’War 2:29.92 (37 lengths behind)

Omaha 2:30.45 (40 lengths behind)

Sir Barton 2:31.42 (47 lengths behind) & Citation 2:31.45 (47 lengths + 1 foot behind)

Assault 2:32.42 (53 lengths behind)

Gallant Fox 2:32.76 (55 lengths behind)

So, what does this prove? Nothing. It’s just fun to imagine all these great horses in the same race and you have to base your imaginings on something. It’s interesting how dominant Secretariat is. I thought Citation was a lot better than that. His fame rested on the fact that there was no Triple Crown winner for a generation after that. Man O' War was great in his time. Maybe he would have been rated higher with a dominant performance in the Derby but ti didn't happen.

There is a general, but not absolute trend toward the more recent horse doing the best. Of course track conditions matter and jockeys matter. You could run the actual race, if there was one, multiple times and get multiple results. Some horses are “speed” horses that might do better over a lesser distance. Others are endurance horses that do better over a longer distance. Those things aren’t really accounted for here.


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
Here are a series of U-Tube posts on Man O’ War and the Triple Crown winners:

Sir Barton:
There was no triple crown yet: in fact all three races were run within a week!

Man O’ War
Man O War
When I was growing up, his name was said with such reverence that I knew, even as a kid that it was Man O’ War and then everyone else.

Man O’ War beats Sir Barton:

Gallant Fox:
The first triple crown winner recognized as such, (the term was coined in 1923). The Preakness was the first of the three races in those days.

Peyton Manning’s favorite TC winner.

War Admiral:
The one Seabiscuit beat. He was a son of Man O’War.

The most-high-strung TC winner.

Count Fleet
He won like Secretariat during the war

Has there ever been a name for a racehorse?

All through my youth, Citation was the last triple crown winner: would there ever be another?

There’s never been a horse that could have beaten him that day in the Belmont.

Seattle Slew:
His jockey said “it was like flying an airplane”

Maybe I should have included Alydar in the Dream Race

American Pharoah:
After 37 years, it seemed like when Mark McGwire hit #62 to break Roger Maris’ record, also after 37 years.

Those first two races were very wet tracks.

In 1999, a poll was conducted to determine the top 100 thoroughbred race horses of the 20th century and it was won not by Secretariat, but by Man O’ War:

Here is a comparison between the two great horses favoring Secretariat:

Here is a site with some links about the two horses:

Here’s an analysis based on “stride angle” using photos:

Here you can vote on who was the best:

This article compares them as studs:

Now that’s how to retire- just prance around the yard while they bring beautiful women to mate with you. A diet of grass and oats might get old, though.

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