Top 5 Upsets of a Triple Crown Winner in the Year They Won the Crown

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D.S. Williamson

September 3rd, 2015

Many horse racing fans are upset that American Pharoah lost to Keen Ice in the Travers Stakes.  Although it would have been nice if American Pharoah had gone into the Breeders' Cup Classic having won the Triple Crown, the Haskell, and the Travers; the truth is that many times horses that have won the Triple Crown then get beat in races following their Derby, Preakness and Belmont sweep.

Although American Pharoah's loss makes the cut, it only just makes my list of top five upsets of a Triple Crown winner's list, it is behind some other notable losses. In fact, a couple of other Triple Crown winners on this list also found the going tough at Saratoga. Check out the list and then disagree with me if you can think of some that I've missed, all comments welcome!

1. Secretariat losing to Onion

Secretariat lost to Onion at Saratoga in the 1973 Whitney Stakes . How crazy is that?  It's not really crazy when you realize that the Whitney is run at Saratoga. Like American Pharoah, Secretariat tried to win by going up the rail. While Pharoah put away the other speed, Secretariat couldn't. It has to be repeated, there is a reason that Saratoga is called the Graveyard of Favorites. Trained by the Chief, H. Allen Jerkens, Onion pulled off one of the greatest upsets in thoroughbred racing history.

2. Seattle Slew losing to J.O. Tobin

Seattle Slew, possibly North America's greatest sire, lost the 1977 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park to J.O. Tobin. J.O. Tobin actually ran the 1 1/4 miles of the Swaps Stakes  at 2/5 off the world record. That's how fast he was moving. He beat Seattle Slew by a ridiculous 16 lengths. Not only did Slew not finish second, Slew finished fourth. It was Seattle Slew's first loss in his career.  Slew would go on to win 5 of his next 7 races and retire with a record of 14 wins, 2 seconds, 0 thirds, and the fourth place finish to J.O. Tobin from 17 lifetime starts.

3. Gallant Fox losing to Jim Dandy

Gallant Fox tried to pull off the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont and Travers sweep in 1930. He ran against 3 other horses in the 1930 Travers Stakes. What's sort of crazy is that Gallant Fox went off at .50 cents on the dollar. He was less of a favorite in a 4 horse field to win the Travers than Seattle Slew was versus J.O. Tobin. Jim Dandy, pictured here, went off at 100 to 1 in the Travers. He won the race easily but Gallant Fox did do well enough to finish second. Gallant Fox had won 7 races in a row before losing to Jim Dandy. Yet another Triple Crown champ went down at the Graveyard of Favorites.

4. Whirlaway losing to Attention

This image of Whirlaway shows how impressive the horse looked. The 1941 Triple Crown winner ran 60 times. He finished his career with 32 wins, 15 second place finishes and 9 third place finishes. Whirlaway was an absolute iron horse. In 1941, from Feb. 8 to Sept. 27, Whirlaway ran in 20 races. He ran in 12 races from March 28 to July 26. After winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, an Allowance race (as a tune-up, I suspect!), the Belmont, the Dwyer and a race called the Special Event, Whirlaway lost to a horse named Attention in a $57K race called the Classic at Arlington Park on July 26 as a 2/5 favorite. The handy Dollar Times inflation calculator estimates that $57,000 is worth $949,240 today. Whirlaway must have lost to a very good horse.

5. American Pharoah losing to Keen Ice

- American Pharoah makes the cut, but don't you think he's in good company?  Losing the Travers Stakes really isn't a surprise. If Gallant Fox could lose in a 4 horse race to 100-1 shot Jim Dandy in the Travers, American Pharoah certainly could get beat by Keen Ice in the Travers' Stakes. The Graveyard of Favorites is exactly that. Secretariat lost at Saratoga. Also, what's less impressive?  Getting nailed near the wire after running on a track that appeared to favor closers?  Or, losing by 16 lengths in the Swaps at Hollywood Park? American Pharoah is already one of the greatest in my opinion. He's run 10 races before September as a three-year-old and he won the Triple Crown. That says a lot i today's age. After American Pharoah wins the Breeders' Cup Classic, nobody's going to care about his Travers Stakes loss.