During the 36 years since Affirmed captured horse racing’s most recent Triple Crown, 12 Thoroughbreds — eight in the last 17 years — have left Pimlico with a chance to duplicate the feat at Belmont Park. All 12 failed, but California Chrome has a chance to make No. 13 lucky on June 7.
Here’s a look at those dozen horses who, like California Chrome, had a chance to end the current Triple Crown drought.
Spectacular Bid (1979)
A year after Affirmed’s win, the favored colt won the Kentucky Derby by 2 3/4 lengths and cruised in the Preakness by 5 1/2 lengths. However, Bid was derailed at Belmont in part by an admittedly faulted strategy by young jockey Ron Franklin, who also was charged with cocaine possession nine days after the third-place finish.
Pleasant Colony (1981)
Colony held off Woodchipper by 3/4 of a length in the Derby, then rallied in Baltimore to beat Bold Ego by a length. At Belmont, the colt lost out to winner Summing and Highland Blade.
Known as “America’s Horse” for his showy personality, even a stumble down the stretch couldn’t keep Alysheba from winning at Churchill Downs, edging Bet Twice. The horses finished one-two again at Pimlico, but Bet Twice finally broke through with a 14-length victory at Belmont. Alysheba finished fourth.
Sunday Silence (1989)
Silence bested rival Easy Goer in a muddy Run for the Roses by 2 1/2 lengths, then edged him again by a nose at the Preakness Stakes. However, the tables were turned in Elmont when Easy Goer breezed past Silence to beat him by eight lengths.
Silver Charm (1997)
It took until the late ’90s for another Triple Crown threat to emerge. The Bob Baffert-trained Silver Charm defeated Captain Bodgit by a neck in the Derby and bested Free House and Bodgit by a head at Pimlico. Charm came closer than most at Belmont, but finished 3/4 of a length behind winner Touch Gold.
Real Quiet (1998)
A Baffert horse was again in the Triple mix a year later as Real Quiet held off Victory Gallup by 1/2 a length at Churchill Downs and again beat him in the Preakness. Gallup played the role of spoiler on Long Island, however, besting Real Quiet by a nose. He remains the closest to achieving the Triple Crown since 1978.
A rare Derby long shot to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Charismatic entered as a 30-1 underdog and left a winner by a head over Menifee. The second-place horse was favored over Charismatic at Pimlico, but again the D. Wayne Lukas-trained horse won by 1 1/2 lengths. Finally favored in the Belmont, Charismatic finished third to winner Lemon Drop Kid.
War Emblem (2002)
Baffert was back with War Emblem, the 20-1 underdog who earned a commanding win in the Derby by four lengths and edged Magic Weisner by 3/4 of a length. The Belmont didn’t go so well as War Emblem stumbled out of the gate and finished eighth as the Stakes was won by 70-1 long shot Sarava.
Funny Cide (2003)
This descendant of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew ran one of the faster Kentucky Derbies, winning by 1 3/4 lengths, and crushed the competition in Maryland by 9 3/4 lengths. Funny Cide wound up third at Belmont, however, after running most of the muddy race next to the rail.
Smarty Jones (2004)
With several former Triple Crown winners in his family tree, undefeated Smarty Jones seemed destined to end the drought after a convincing win (2 1/4 lengths) in Kentucky and a record win in Baltimore (11 1/2 lengths). But it was not to be, as he couldn’t hold off Birdsong, who won by a length.
Big Brown (2008)
This favorite took care of business in the Derby, winning by 4 3/4 lengths, and again in the Preakness, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. A crack in his left front hoof didn’t keep him from being favored at Belmont, but a dislodged shoe may have led to what happened there as Big Brown failed to finish the race.
I’ll Have Another (2012)
The most recent horse with a chance at the Triple Crown also is the only one since Affirmed to skip the Belmont. I’ll Have Another finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Bodemeister at Churchill Downs then edged him by a nose in the Preakness. However, a leg injury forced I’ll Have Another out of the Belmont, which was won by Union Rags.