Triple Crown Near-Misses: Capot Fades in the Derby

For the 1949 Kentucky Derby, all eyes were on Olympia, the winner of three stakes at 2 as well as the Wood Memorial and Derby Trial.

Bettors made him the 4-5 favorite, and he wowed everyone with a first quarter in a record-tying 22 2/5 seconds. Capot, a relative longshot at 13-1, stalked Olympia, about 1 1/2 lengths off the lead.

Olympia couldn’t handle the fast pace, though, and faded, leaving Capot to take charge. He roared to the front, taking a three-length lead heading into the homestretch. But the fast pace allowed Ponder, a horse in search of his first stakes win, to come from off the pace.

Trailing by as much as 16 lengths, Ponder, at 16-1, came down the center of the track and overtook Capot with ease, winning by 3 lengths. He and his father, Pensive, became the sixth father-son combination to win the Kentucky Derby. (Ponder’s son, Needles, also won the Derby in 1956, and they became the second three-generation Derby winners behind Reigh Count, Count Fleet and Count Turf.)

Capot’s showing was good enough to make him the 5-2 second favorite behind Ponder in the Preakness Stakes. Like the Derby, Capot stayed about 1 1/2 lengths off the torrid pace set by Noble Impulse.

When Noble Impulse ran out of gas, Capot once again surged to the lead. This time Ponder was nowhere to be found, leaving Palestinian to take the charge toward the leader. This time, though, Capot held on to win by a head. Ponder finished fifth.

Curiously, Capot’s win didn’t sit well with the bettors at the Belmont Stakes, who were more impressed with Ponder and Palestinian’s strong finishes. Ponder was the 4-5 favorite , and Palestinian was the second choice at 2-1. Capot was at 5-1.

This time, jockey Ted Atkinson moved Capot to the front early and slowed down the pace considerably, saving energy for the mile and a half race. He also saved ground with a trip along the rail. Palestinian lurked in second and was only 1/2 length behind Capot with only 1/2 mile to go.

Once again, Palestinian made a move, and Ponder came from off the pace again to make it a three-horse race. But the Belmont was not long enough for them; Capot won by a 1/2 length over Palestinian, who was a 1/2 length in front of Ponder.

For his accomplishments, Capot was named 3-Year-Old Male Horse of the Year. If he hadn’t chased Olympia in the Derby, we may have had a second Triple Crown winner in a row.