Triple Crown Near-Misses: Kauai King Goes Too Fast

After 18 years of frustration – of Native Dancer and Northern Dancer just missing the Triple Crown, of Nashua and Chateaugay capturing two of three, of Needles and Tim Tam – horse racing fans finally thought they had their superhorse in 1966. Buckpasser, the son of Tom Fool, had won 9 of 11 races in 1965 to capture 2-year-old Horse of the Year honors. It seemed the Crown was his for the taking.

But racing luck can be bad and good. In Buckpasser’s case, it was bad. He developed a quarter crack after the Flamingo Stakes and missed all three races. His main rival, Graustark, was injured after finishing second in the Blue Grass Stakes and was out as well. That left Kauai King as the favorite among the second tier of hopefuls for the Kentucky Derby.

Victory at Churchill

He didn’t disappoint. Kauai King went to the front at the start and opened a three-length lead over Quinta down the backstretch. He was setting phenomenal fractions – too fast, really – but was still two lengths in front of Stupendous at the eighth pole. He began to tire, though, and Advocator came on like a freight train. Kauai King just managed to hold off Advocator at the wire, winning by a half-length. He was able to do what his sire, Native Dancer, could not do: win the Kentucky Derby.
Kauai King was the favorite going into the Preakness as well. This time, Stupendous set fast fractions early, while the Derby winner stalked him several lengths off the lead. When Stupendous tired heading into the homestretch, jockey Don Brumfield urged Kauai King on, and he passed his rival en route to a 1 1/2-length victory.

Disappointment again

At the Belmont, Highest Honors set shocking fractions – the third colt to do so in the three races. When he tired after six furlongs, Kauai King went to the lead, continuing the murderous pace. And it did him in.
Amberoid, at one point 15 lengths behind the leaders, came from off the pace and overtook Kauai King. To add insult to injury, Buffle and Advocator also passed the Derby and Preakness winner, who was spent and finished fourth, eight lengths behind Amberoid.
Kauai King bowed a tendon in his next race, the Arlington Classic, and was retired. The winner of that race? Buckpasser, who won his fifth race in a row en route to 15 straight wins.

Triple Crown Near-Misses: Northern Dancer Runs out of Steam

Northern Dancer


At just over 15 hands, Northern Dancer looked more like a quarter horse than a Thoroughbred – squat and muscular in contrast to the sleek, almost graceful animals that raced against him. But he received nothing but respect from the horse racing world in 1964 and beyond.

His first season as a 2-year-old turned heads – seven victories in nine starts, mostly in Canada. But even after a solid win in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, Northern Dancer lost the 2-year-old championship to Hurry to Market, a colt who had won only 3 of 7 starts, and Raise a Native, who was 4 for 4. Both colts would suffer career-ending injuries, leaving Northern Dancer as the heir apparent to the 3-year-old season.
He did not disappoint. After running third in an allowance race on Feb. 11, he won the Flamingo Stakes by two lengths, then followed that with wins in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. Before the Blue Grass, trainer Horatio Luro asked Northern Dancer’s jockey, the great Bill Shoemaker, if he would ride Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby. But Shoemaker chose undefeated Hill Rise over the Canadian champion – a decision that haunted him.

Success at the Derby

In the Derby, Northern Dancer, the second choice, had a good trip, unlike the favorite Hill Rise, who was bumped twice at the start and forced wide on the far turn. 179-1 longshot Royal Shuck took the field through an incredible :22 2/5 quarter mile – the fastest that had ever been run in a Derby. Mr. Brick took over from him, slowing down only slightly to finish a half-mile in :46 flat. As the tightly-bunched field rounded the turn for home, jockey Bill Hartack took Northern Dancer off the rail and into the lead, stretching it to two lengths by the eighth pole.
But here came Hill Rise, and he was gaining ground quickly. Hartack took the whip to Northern Dancer, and the little colt responded, finishing a neck in front of Hill Rise and Bill Shoemaker in a record 2:00. He became the first Canadian-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby.
In the Preakness, Hill Rise was still the favorite at 4-5. At the start, Big Pete took the lead but was soon overtaken on the backstretch by Quadrangle. That’s when Northern Dancer made his move, and entering the far turn he had taken the lead.
Here came Hill Rise again. Halfway through the far turn, he got to within 1/2 length of Northern Dancer. Hartack applied the whip again, and Northern Dancer pulled away, 2 1/2 lengths in front of The Scoundrel. Hill Rise was a nose behind in third.

Coming up Short

Northern Dancer was finally made the favorite for the Belmont Stakes, with Hill Rise the second choice. 42-1 shot Orientalist set a slow pace. Quadrangle took over the lead at the mile pole, and the Dancer once again made his move entering the far turn. He was only 1/2 length behind at the eighth pole.
Then he ran out of gas.
A very tired Northern Dancer faded quickly, and Roman Brother passed him for second as Quadrangle pulled the upset, stunning the crowd of 61,000 – the largest ever to watch a Belmont Stakes.
After losing the Belmont, Northern Dancer took the Queen’s Plate, the most prestigious race in Canada, by 7 1/2 lengths. But an ankle injury ended his career shortly thereafter. His career record was 14 wins, 2 places and 2 shows in 18 races. He never finished out of the money.

Stud success

Northern Dancer then began his stud career. His first few crops looked promising, and then his genes kicked in. He sired 1970 British Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II and two other Epsom Derby winners and at one point stood for $1 million. He was the leading sire in North America in 1971 and 1977 and led the English/Irish sire list four times. He sired 411 winners and 147 stakes winners from 645 named foals. In the 2014 Kentucky Derby, all 20 horses had Northern Dancer in their pedigree.
He may not have won the Triple Crown, but he certainly stands as one of the greatest sires in history.

July 22, 1978: Spectacular Bid Wins His Second Start

Three weeks after Spectacular Bid won his debut in impressive fashion, trainer Bud Delp lined up a second matchup for the horse—another five-and-a-half-furlong race at Pimlico Race Course on July 22, 1978.

The crowd had heard of his 3 1/2-length maiden victory at Pimlico and sent him off as a 3–10 favorite, which meant bettors would win just sixty cents on a two-dollar bet.

As he had in his first race, Bid started slowly and was third in the early going, but jockey Ron Franklin bided his time, waiting patiently until the far turn to make his move.

Once he did, Bid took command, steadily drew away, and won by eight lengths over Silent Native. The time of 1:04 1/5 for five-and-a-half furlongs was a track record.

Bid was now two for two in his first two starts. His first stakes race was awaiting him.