Twelve books to read for the Triple Crown season in horse racing


The three races that make up the historic Triple Crown series are filled with stories of people and horses, names that inspire generations of racing fans to delve into telling the stories of these pivotal moments. On the first Saturday in May, why not spend the days leading up to the Triple Crown by revisiting the names and faces that make up the history of these emblematic races? These 12 titles can give readers a fresh perspective on some of the icons of the sport, both equine and human.

The Triple Crown:

The Lucky Thirteen: Winners of America’s Triple Crown of Horse Racing, by Edward L. Bowen

Released in 2019, The lucky thirteen is the newest addition to the pantheon of books describing the Triple Crown and its winners and the only one that includes Justify (2018). Bowen is the premier racing historian and his extensive knowledge of the sport and the horses that have won the sport’s most elite prizes here. It’s a must read for anyone who loves the Triple Crown and the immortals whose names are engraved on this short list.


Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown, by Jennifer S. Kelly

In 1919, a winless chestnut colt made the Kentucky Derby his first win, then added the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, achieving what has become known to modern racing fans as the Triple Crown. Mr Barton explores the career of this trailblazer in depth, from his surprising turn at Churchill Downs to his place alongside Man o’ War at the start line of the Race of the Century.


Quote: In a class apart, by Phil Georgeff

As the race’s first millionaire, Citation won more than the Triple Crown: he had a 16-game winning streak matched by the legendary Cigar nearly five decades later. Georgeff’s book details the Calumet Farm champion’s long career, a horse that has only finished out of the money once in 45 races.


The Horse God Built: The Untold Story of Secretariat, the World’s Greatest Racehorse, by Lawrence Scanlan

Nearly 50 years after Secretariat’s record-breaking triple crown victory, Scanlan’s portrayal of Big Red comes from the perspective of the person who knows him best: his husband, Eddie Sweat. For those who liked the movie Secretariat and enjoyed Bill Nack’s book on the ninth Triple Crown winner, this book will give readers a fresh, ground-level perspective on these two legendary seasons.


Duel for the crown: Affirmed, Alydar and Racing’s Greatest Rivalry, by Linda Carroll and Dave Rosner

The 1978 Triple Crown season is famous for more than just crowning the 11and Confirmed winner. No, the classics of that year became something more: a series of duels that made winners and losers immortal, the image of Affirmed and Alydar falling to the wire as one burned in the memory of the sport. Carroll and Rosner tell the story behind the rivalry, recounting the people, places and races that made Affirmed and Alydar inseparable in the history of the Sport of Kings.


American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Legendary Rise of the Triple Crown Winner, by Joe Drape

In 2015, American Pharoah ended the 37-year drought between the Triple Crowns, capturing the hearts of racing fans around the world. Drape’s book examines the journey from the horse’s earliest days, exploring what it took for American Pharoah to grow from one of thousands of foals born to “finally that one.”


Vindicate: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory, by Lenny Shulman

From his first start at Santa Anita Park to his crowning glory at Belmont Park, Justify defied odds and condensed the memories of a lifetime into just 111 days. Lenny Shulman’s privileged access to Justify’s career takes readers right to the heart of the American 13’s extraordinary career.and Triple Crown winner.


More classic winners:

Spectacular Auction: The Last Superhorse of the 20th Century, by Peter Lee

On the heels of Seattle Slew and Affirmed’s back-to-back triple crowns came Spectacular Bid, a superhorse in every sense of the word. Champion in every season he ran, the bid fell short of the triple crown with their shock loss to Coastal in the 1979 Belmont Stakes, the cause remains a matter of debate some 40 years later.


Here Comes Exterminator: The Longshot Horse, the Great War and the Making of an American Hero, by Eliza McGraw

Willis Sharpe Kilmer shunned Exterminator – until he did what no one expected him to do, win America’s Greatest Race. McGraw’s book details how Exterminator went from second fiddle to first place in the hearts of racing fans around the world.


Man o’ War: A Legend Like Lightning, by Dorothée Ours

A century after his dominant career, Man o’ War sits atop the list of history’s greatest thoroughbreds, but this legend was once in the flesh, subject to the whims of one owner and one trainer overwhelmed by the juggernaut in their barn. Author Dorothy Bear explores the career of this immortal, giving readers new insights into the twenty-one races that made Man o’ War a superstar.


Image of the Dancer: The Forgotten History of the 1968 Kentucky Derby, by Milt Toby

A look at any list of Kentucky Derby winners will show Forward Pass as the winner of the 1968 edition, but his victory came after the controversial disqualification of Dancer’s Image. Milt Toby explores the drug overrun at the heart of the controversy, detailing the testing procedures that led to the discovery and the lawsuits that followed.


Racing for America: The Horse Racing of the Century and the Redemption of a Sport, by James C. Nicholson

In 1923, on the heels of a world war and the impending death of the sport, Zev won the Kentucky Derby and the 1923 Belmont Stakes, his classic wins putting him head and shoulders above his competitors. Owned by the infamous Harry Sinclair, trained by Hall of Famer Sam Hildreth and ridden by “Handy Guy” Earl Sande, this classic winner is at the center of the story of another race of the century, the one that marked the return of racing after a decade on the brink of extinction.

These 12 books are just a sample of the titles available to any racing fan who wants to learn more about the sport and its stories. What better way to count up these three American classics than to read about the greats that keep us coming back for more?


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