The Triple Crown – The long wait for the next Nijinsky

Features | 1st July 2020

It remains arguably the toughest test in the world of sport; now viewed as an almost mythical challenge that only the most versatile and gifted equine athletes dare dream of completing.

This Saturday’s Investec Derby will mark the 50th anniversary of the last equine immortal, Nijinsky, wining the second leg of English racing’s “Triple Crown”.  He remains to this day the most recent claimant of British racing’s most coveted accolade.

The Triple Crown is a test that requires a completely unique blend of speed, strength and stamina. Starting off by winning the 2000 Guineas over a mile at Newmarket, then taking in the Derby over a mile and a half at Epsom and, finally, winning the marathon mile and three-quarter test in the St Leger at Doncaster.

The fillies’ too have their own version which is equally tough to overcome; taking in identical challenges against their own sex in the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks before then needing to beat the colts the St Leger in September.

Here we take a quick look at why the Triple Crown feat has been untouched for a combined 85 years.

Bucking the Trend

So extreme is the challenge to overcome that since 1970 just three champion colts – Nashwaan (1989), Sea The Stars (2009) and Camelot (2012) have managed to get as far as winning the 2000 Guineas and Derby double, with only Camelot even attempting the final Leger test.

The picture is much the same for the fillies, though the Sir Henry Cecil-trained Oh So Sharp completed the Triple Crown a little more recently in 1985.

Just three fillies have completed the 1000 Guineas + Oaks double since, though none of them even made it to Doncaster to have a crack at immortality.

Too Much Need for Speed

The emphasis within the racehorse breeding industry on producing precocious speedy horses has made it much less likely for a Triple Crown specimen to be bred.

That very elusive blend of speed and stamina coupled with an iron constitution to withstand the physical test of racing at the top level over that unique range of distances is something that you seldom see in modern racing.

There is also a serious temptation for horses on course for the Triple Crown to run in more valuable races over shorter, less stamina focused distances in the Autumn when the St Leger is held.

For example, both Nashwaan and Sea The Stars opted to focus their attention on Europe’s richest race, the Prix De L’Arc de Triomphe, over the Derby distance of a mile and a half rather than run at Doncaster.

Camelot and Joseph O'Brien win The Investec Derby

2020 Contenders

Both the winners of the Newmarket Guineas Classics, Kameko and Love, are set to lineup at Epsom this weekend; meaning there is a genuine chance that come Saturday evening the dream of a Triple Crown winner could remain alive.

As is always the case, there are stamina questions to be answered before racing fans can dream of another crack at racing history. Asking any racehorse, no matter what their level of talent, to step up in distance from 8 furlongs (1 mile) to 12 furlongs (1 mile and a half) comes with a great degree of doubt.

A lack of stamina has certainly been the undoing of many Newmarket champions at Epsom over the decades. So much so that simply choosing to run a Guineas winner at Epsom in itself feels like a giant leap of faith.

Both Kameko and Love appeared to finish their Guineas races strongly, so it’s easy to understand why they’re currently both at the top of the market for their Classic contests