Three racehorses won the Triple Crown in the 1970s, and none have won the ultimate thoroughbred distinction in the subsequent decades.
Oh, contenders have tried. Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, 11 horses won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but failed to win the Belmont Stakes.
California Chrome adds his name to one of those lists—champion or failed contender—on Saturday.
We've asked a panel of horseracing experts questions about the Triple Crown and California Chrome's chances. Here's the first pressing matter going into the Belmont:
What's the biggest reason no horse has won the Triple Crown since 1978?
Alicia Wincze, turfwriter for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
"With the onset of the rise of the commercial marketplace in the early 1980s, the focus of the industry has shifted more towards breeding for a return on investment in the sales ring and less on breeding to race.
"The way trainers condition their horses has also changed, with the trend going toward giving horses more times between races and fewer starts overall in their career. Thus, having a durable horse who can stand up to a three starts in five weeks over a route of ground—now, more than ever—goes against what has become the industry-wide norm."
Tom Law, managing editor for thisishorseracing.com and is the former managing editor of Thoroughbred Times
"The biggest factor involves the number of opponents the modern Triple Crown hopefuls have to run against. The 11 Triple Crown winners faced an average of a little more than four opponents by the time they raced in the Belmont Stakes.
"The 11 who attempted to sweep the series since 1978 (I'll Have Another not included because he didn't start) faced fields that were twice the size with an average number of opponents of more than eight. It's not often talked about, but that makes a huge difference. Not to take anything away from previous Triple Crown winners, but facts are facts and many were racing in fields with only three, four and five horses.
"The series is extremely difficult and the modern training techniques don't usually involve horses running three races in five weeks, let alone three races in a row at three different racetracks."
Eric Mitchell, editor-in-chief of Blood-Horse
"Lots of theories here, but one of the most interesting ones I’ve seen recently had to do with the size of the North American foal crop. Since 2007, the number of foals born in North America (U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico) has dropped from 37,949 to around 23,000. Today’s foal crop is closer to what it was during the years Secretariat (1973; 26,811), Seattle Slew (1977; 30,036), and Affirmed (1978; 31,510) than in most of the following years. So, a lower number of foals and consequently less collective competition could be a factor.
"Second, I do think the regular use of the diuretic Lasix on race day is an issue. It does take horses longer to recover from their races when it is used regularly, and the Triple Crown is a very tough series of races to compete in over five weeks. Lasix was approved for veterinary use in 1967."
Jim Mulvihill, director of media and industry relations for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association
“The most obvious reason is that it’s a really difficult feat to accomplish. The reality is it’s very difficult for any horse at any level to win three races in a row. Rather than get caught up in the fact that it’s been 36 years since the last one, to me we should be impressed that 11 horses have done it. It’s that astounding of an achievement.”
Next, we'll take up whether the Triple Crown should be changed.