Citation will end debate as the greatest Triple Crown winner in history
The computer simulated “The Kentucky Derby -- Triple Crown Showdown” will be televised on May 2 on NBC. The spectacular event will pit the 13 Triple Crown winners against each other in a virtual race beneath the Twin Spires, using data algorithms and including historical handicapping information about each horse to help determine the outcome.
In a race where the contenders are nearly impossible to separate, versatility and human elements will play vital roles en route to coming out victorious in such a demanding contest. And Calumet homebred Citation has both going for him. I will side with the son of Bull Lea to take down the most incredibly assembled field of horses to ever ‘set foot on the racetrack’.
Citation commenced his career at Havre de Grace Racetrack in Maryland in April of 1947 and was a winner on debut, as expected. Initially conditioned by Horace “Jimmy” Jones before being transferred to his father Ben the following spring, the bay went postward as the 8-5 choice and rallied to beat maiden special weight foes while going 4 1/2 furlongs. The colt then tallied four wins in succession, and he concluded his juvenile campaign with an 8-for-9 mark. But that was just a sign of bigger things to come.
In his 3-year-old campaign, “Big Cy” went an unimaginable 19-for-20, with the Triple Crown sweep topping his highlights. He won at 10 different tracks by more than 66 combined lengths, and he was never challenged in his historic tour-de-force classics run under Eddie Arcaro. The Kentucky-bred would reel off nine straight tallies following his Belmont Stakes conquering to cap arguably the best sophomore season in the history of our sport.
“Almost every nice horse has one good move in them; the really good ones, you can move with them twice,” Arcaro said. “With Citation, you could call on him any time in a race. He had about eight moves in him.”
“Imagine what he could have done if he were ever pressed, or if I let out all the gears in him”, stated Arcaro. “Just once I wish we could’ve gone all out with him as a 3-year-old.”
Arcaro was at the top of the game, and his brilliance was not lost on his fellow riders.
Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero once stated, “God only makes so many people like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth. Eddie Arcaro is right there with those people. He was the best ever.”
Citation was injured in the latter part of his sophomore season, and he sat on the sideline for 13 months prior to his comeback. “Big Cy” was not the same animal in his return, but that will never taint his amazing accomplishments when healthy.
He was compared by racing historians, often favorably, to the otherworldly Man o’War. And that’s good enough for me.
If not for his front-running style in a field full of pace, I may have tabbed Count Fleet for an upset chance. He is a legendary animal that was as dominant as any horse that has set foot on U. S. soil during his perfect 3-year-old campaign. The Reigh Count colt had no challenges during his sophomore season in 1943, ripping off six tallies by a combined 48 lengths. The Mrs. Fannie Hertz colorbearer is easily among the best Thoroughbreds ever created, and he is a legitimate contender in the virtual race beneath Johnny Longden.
For the first two-thirds of his 3-year-old campaign, Affirmed was unblemished in securing eight wins in succession with five Grade-1 tallies among them. Although he tailed off in the latter part of 1978, the chestnut had the heart of a champion and his accomplishments can’t be overlooked. In the virtual race, Affirmed could be a great value inclusion to reach the top three at a price with the magical Steve Cauthen in the controls.