How Do Horses Qualify For The Triple Crown?

Before a horse like American Pharoah can ever capture the elusive Triple Crown of thoroughbred horseracing, there are many hurdles to overcome. Some of these do not even include running in a race! The road to the Triple Crown is a complicated process that begins before a horse is even born.


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The Triple Crown Nomination

It takes a special horse to make a run at the Triple Crown, but the first step on the journey is one that is available to every thoroughbred horse. The horse must be nominated for the series by its owners. A horse can be nominated during a period of time from as soon as it is born just a few months before the Kentucky Derby. Triple Crown nomination only requires filling out paperwork and paying a fee. No horse is prohibited from nomination.

In many cases, a horse will be considered for nomination to the Triple Crown series by its owners before it is even born, based on the expectations of its breeding. For example, some horse owners that  breed their stakes-winning mares to the last Triple Crown winner American Pharoah will nominate the resultant foal based solely on expectations. This can be risky, of course, but many owners consider the money to be well-spent.

In many cases a horse will be nominated once it has started training and showed flashes of greatness. This can occur when the horse is one or two years old. If a horse peaks late, an owner can even make a nomination as late as March in a any Triple Crown year. The cost, however, goes up substantially as time passes. For the 2017 Triple Crown, horses that were nominated before January 14, 2017 only require a $600 fee. After that, the fee rises to $6,000.

The Two-Year Old Campaign

One of the strongest statistics in horseracing that holds true almost every single year is that horses which do not begin their racing career as a two-year-old do not win the Kentucky Derby, the first jewel of the Triple Crown. Of course, there are the rare exceptions. The only horse to win the Kentucky Derby that did not race at two-years-old was Apollo in 1882.

Ez Horse Betting Handicapping Tip

As a first step in handicapping the Kentucky Derby, eliminate all horses in the race that did not race at two years of age. They simply do not win the Run for the Roses. These horses can often be considered as contenders in the Preakness or Belmont Stakes, however, so keep an eye on them!

Many trainers will choose to begin a horse’s two-year-old campaign in the the spring at Keeneland. Races are held at 4F and give the young horses a chance to get their bearings. Another good track to watch for two-year-old races is Saratoga in August. Many of these young horse emerge as Triple Crown contenders.

The ultimate prize for a two-year-old racehorse is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in late October or early November. Oddly enough, the winner of this race has rarely come back to to win the Kentucky Derby. Handicappers should pay special attention to the second, third, and fourth place finishers in this race.

The Prep Race Qualifying Period

The first step to winning the Triple Crown is to win the Kentucky Derby. On the first Saturday in May of each year, 20 horses will enter the starting gates at Churchill Downs to compete in the Run for the Roses. Determining which 20 horses will have that opportunity is much more straightforward than it was in recent years. Today, a horse must earn qualifying points in a series of designated races.

Qualifying prep races are held at tracks all over the world. These designated races award points to the top four finishers in each race. At the end of the prep race period, the horses with the most points are given preference for entering the Kentucky Derby.

The prep races and points system are designed to make sure only the best horses are able to compete for the Triple Crown. If this system were not in place, any owner willing to pay a nomination fee for the race could potentially enter.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how horses can qualify for the Triple Crown, head over to and sign up for a racebook account  or pick another online racebook. You’ll be able to bet on all the prep races and the races of the Triple Crown, and there are generous bonuses for new players.


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