Winning the coveted “Triple Crown” of horse racing consists of finishing first in all three of the sport’s most prestigious events in the same year:  the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.

Triple Crown winners are considered the most dominant horses of all-time.  You’ve probably heard most of their names at one time or another.  If you ask someone to name the top race horse in history, you’re likely to hear names like Secretariat or Seattle Slew – both Triple Crown winners.

What about the horses that do not quite make the cut?  Below we explore those unfortunate equines who managed to win only two of the three Triple Crown races, narrowly missing having their names added to the history books among past great champions.

It is important to remember that prior to the 1930s, the “Triple Crown” as it is known now did not really exist.  The Kentucky Derby had yet to gain much notoriety up to that point and many owners simply chose to not enter their best horses there.  With that said, we have still included a comprehensive list of two-event winners.

Horse Racing’s Triple Crown Close Calls

Winners of Both the Kentucky Derby & Preakness Stakes

The most harrowing combination has to be winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but failing to win the Belmont Stakes.  This is the most heart-breaking because these races are now always run in the same order – Kentucky Derby, Preakness, then Belmont.  That being said, the Preakness was ran before the Derby eleven times prior to 1931, and the Belmont ran eleven times before the Preakness.  Both 1923 and 1931 happened to be two of the years the Preakness ran before the Derby, so there were not quite the same stakes for Zev and Twenty Grand than the other horses on this list.

23 horses in all have won these two legs of the Triple Crown and, amazingly, 8 of those horses finished in second place at the Belmont, coming just one spot short of history.

Year Horse Belmont Finish
2014 California Chrome 4th
2012 I’ll Have Another Scratched
2008 Big Brown Did Not Finish
2004 Smarty Jones 2nd
2003 Funny Cide 3rd
2002 War Emblem 8th
1999 Charismatic 3rd
1998 Real Quiet 2nd
1997 Silver Charm 2nd
1989 Sunday Silence 2nd
1987 Alysheba 4th
1981 Pleasant Colony 3rd
1979 Spectacular Bid 3rd
1971 Canonero II 4th
1969 Majestic Prince 2nd
1968 Forward Pass 2nd
1966 Kauai King 4th
1964 Northern Dancer 3rd
1961 Carry Back 7th
1958 Tim Tam 2nd
1944 Pensive 2nd
1936 Bold Venture Scratched
1932 Burgoo King Did Not Enter

Horses to Win Only the Preakness & Belmont Stakes

A total of 18 horses have won both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.  Out of that number, seven horses did not even participate in the Kentucky Derby due to a conflict with the Preakness or simply not wishing to run the race.  That leaves 11 horses on this list that tried and failed to win the Triple Crown.  Four of those remaining participants managed to finish in second place in the Kentucky Derby before going on to win the next two legs.

Year Horse Derby Finish
2005 Afleet Alex 3rd
2001 Point Given 5th
1994 Tabasco Cat 6th
1991 Hansel 10th
1988 Risen Star 3rd
1974 Little Current 5th
1967 Damascus 3rd
1955 Nashua 2nd
1953 Native Dancer 2nd
1949 Capot 2nd
1940 Bimelech 2nd
1922 Pillory Did Not Enter
1920 Man o’ War Did Not Enter
1895 Belmar Did Not Enter
1881 Saunterer Did Not Enter
1880 Grenada Did Not Enter
1878 Duke of Magenta Did Not Enter
1877 Cloverbrook Did Not Enter

List of Who has Won the Kentucky Derby & Belmont Stakes

Just 11 horses have won only the first and last leg of the Triple Crown, making it more rare than actual Triple Crown wins.  Four horses from this group very narrowly missed the crown by finishing 2nd at the Preakness in addition to Derby and Belmont wins.

Year Horse Preakness Finish
1995 Thunder Gulch 3rd
1984 Swale 7th
1976 Bold Forbes 3rd
1972 Riva Ridge 4th
1963 Chateaugay 2nd
1956 Needles 2nd
1950 Middleground 2nd
1942 Shut Out 5th
1939 Johnstown 5th
1931 Twenty Grand 2nd
1923 Zev 12th

Complete List of Triple Crown Winners

For good measure, here is the full list of 12 horses that managed to complete the Triple Crown by winning all three races.

Year Horse
2015 American Pharoah
1978 Affirmed
1977 Seattle Slew
1973 Secretariat
1948 Citation
1946 Assault
1943 Count Fleet
1941 Whirlaway
1937 War Admiral
1935 Omaha
1930 Gallant Fox
1919 Sir Barton