The Triple Crown is the most important series of horse races of the year comprised of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Throughout May and June, the three-year-old thoroughbreds run in hopes of winning all three races to becoming the Triple Crown winner, a rare and exciting honor. Although uncommon, there have been two recent winners: American Pharoah of 2015 and Justify of 2018. Although it seems we are in the midst of a lucky time for horse racing, this year was not so abundant with success.
The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby took place on the rainy day of May 4 in Louisville, Kentucky. This year’s stands of 150,000 elaborate-hat-wearing and mint-julep-drinking spectators knew that no matter what the outcome, they could always count on one thing: a clear winner. Although it was clear that the mud-clad second-favorite Maximum Security crossed the finish line first, controversy arose when rewatched footage showed that a swerve in this horse’s path impeded the paths of those behind it, which was against the rules. His swerve created a domino effect of horses being pushed aside to make way for his illegal move, the most significant of the affected being War of Will and Bodexpress, who were forced to check their strides. Maximum Security was disqualified, the first since 1968. The second to cross the line, Country House, was declared winner instead.
The Preakness Stakes on May 18 in Baltimore, Maryland at Pimlico Race Course only made the trio of races weirder. For the first time since 1996, the Kentucky Derby winner did not run; Country House contracted a virus and could not participate, automatically ruling out any Triple Crown winner for this year. The second and third place winners, Code of Honor and Tacitus, also did not race, making this the first time since 1951 that the first four horses to cross the finish line at the Kentucky Derby did not run in the Preakness. Then, as soon as the race began, Bodexpress bucked off his jockey, John R. Velazquez, and ran the entire length of the track without him. War of Will won, this time without disruption.
Further adulterating the name of the race, a filly– Congrats, Gal– died at Pimlico the day before the Preakness. She had collapsed on the track after a race on the hot day and died shortly after. The name of racing has been tainted from backlash this year because of a long string of horse deaths this year. The Santa Anita track in California has experienced twenty-nine deaths since December 26 and has evoked public alarm for animal safety. There are efforts being made to close Santa Anita down, and the owners of the track– Stronach Group– is the same that owns Pimlico.
Luckily, the Belmont Stakes on June 8 in Elmont, New York went as normal. The winner was Sir Winston, with War of Will coming second-to-last. No horse who participated in all three of the races this year won.
This year’s Triple Crown succeeded only in defiling horse racing as disorganized, a threat to animal safety, and riddled with bad behavior and controversy. Not until next May will there be a chance to redeem the name of the biggest horse races of the year.