Since Affirmed became the 11th and most recent 3-year-old to win the Triple Crown in 1978, there have been three exceptional sophomores who won two-thirds of the crown but couldn’t grab all three.
To me, Spectacular Bid in 1979, Alysheba in 1987 and Point Given in 2001 stand out as the best 3-year-olds that didn’t sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Sunday Silence, in my opinion, is probably No. 4 on the list.
Spectacular Bid was a colt who showed his brilliance whether running short or long. He won the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes in then-record time at Santa Anita in 1979 and also still holds the track record for 1 1/4 miles, running a 1:57 4/5 while winning the 1980 Strub Stakes.
Spectacular Bid lost once more in his career after the Belmont, falling short to 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
He won all nine of his starts as a 4-year-old, setting track records at distances of seven furlongs, one mile, 1 1/4 miles and twice at 1 1/8 miles, and was named the 1980 Horse of the Year.
Alysheba, who had only a maiden victory to his credit when he won the Derby, went on to enjoy a brilliant 4-year-old season, winning the Strub Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita and then clinching 1988 Horse of the Year honors with victories in the Meadowlands Cup, Woodward Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Point Given never had the chance to show if he could turn in as brilliant a 4-year-old season as Spectacular Bid and Alysheba, but he was mighty good as a 3-year-old. After finishing fifth in the Derby, he came back to win the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes en route to 2001 Horse of the Year laurels before an injury ended his career.
He ran the fourth fastest Belmont ever, quicker than even Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Affirmed, and he’s the only horse in history to win four $1 million races consecutively. He also became the first horse since 1967 to win the Preakness, Belmont and Travers, joining an elite group that includes Man o’ War (1920), Whirlaway (1941), Native Dancer (1953) and Damascus (1967).
There have been other outstanding 3-year-olds that won two-thirds of the Triple Crown since 1979, including Pleasant Colony (1981), Swale (1984), Risen Star (1988), Sunday Silence (1989), Hansel (1991), Tabasco Cat (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Afleet Alex (2005) and Big Brown (2008).
Of course, we’ll never know how Barbaro would have fared in 2006 if he hadn’t broken down in the Preakness after a scintillating victory in the Derby. Would he have beaten Bernardini at Pimlico and gone on to become the 12th Triple Crown winner?
Here are replays of the two Triple Crown races that Spectacular Bid and Point Given couldn’t win, the 1979 Belmont and the 2001 Kentucky Derby. I couldn’t find video of the 1987 Belmont Stakes:
Tell us what you think: