Pedigree fun facts: Triple Crown winners

Apr 18, 2020 Kellie Reilly/

The 13 Triple Crown winners’ pedigrees reflect the evolution of sire lines along with the depth of maternal families.

Here are the fun facts about their ancestry:


Sir Barton was by leading sire *Star Shoot, the asterisk denoting an imported horse. The British-bred stallion was himself a son of the great Isinglass, who swept the English Triple Crown – the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and St Leger – in 1893.

Sir Barton’s half-brother Sir Martin was a top American juvenile who shipped to England and went off as the favorite in the 1909 Epsom Derby, only to fall during the race. None the worse for the tumble, he went on to win the next year’s Coronation Cup over the same course and distance. Their dam, Lady Sterling by Hanover (a charter member of the Hall of Fame), also factored as the granddam of Hall of Famer Princess Doreen, the world’s top money-winning distaffer by the end of her career in 1927.


Gallant Fox descended from the sire line of *Ormonde, the unbeaten English Triple Crown winner of 1886, and his paternal grandson, Flying Fox, who achieved the same sweep in 1899. Flying Fox was the paternal ancestor of *Sir Gallahad III, an émigré French classic winner who made an immediate impact by siring Gallant Fox in his first U.S. crop. He would beget two more Kentucky Derby scorers in Gallahadion (1940) and Hoop, Jr. (1945).

Gallant Fox’s dam, Marguerite, was herself from the maternal family of yet another English Triple Crown winner, *Rock Sand (1903). Sired by Celt, a stallion from the brilliant but star-crossed line of Domino, Marguerite produced three other high-profile winners. Petee-Wrack counted among his major wins the 1928 Travers, the very feature that famously eluded his half-brother two years later. Gallant Fox’s full brothers included Fighting Fox and Foxbrough, England’s champion 2-year-old when capturing the 1938 Middle Park and later successful stateside.

OMAHA (1935)

A son of Gallant Fox and the top-class Flambino, Omaha was a full brother to Flares, who stamped himself as a top performer in England. Victorious in the 1937 Champion S., Flares landed the 1938 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot that had eluded Omaha two years prior.

Their dam, Flambino by *Wrack, scored her signature win in the 1927 Gazelle but notably finished third versus males in the Belmont. Flambino was also third in the Coaching Club American Oaks, unable to emulate her dam *Flambette’s victory in the same race in 1921. A French import, Flambette became the significant ancestress of Hall of Famers Gallorette and Johnstown (the 1939 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner).


Sire Man o’ War, often rated as the all-time greatest American Thoroughbred, never had his chance at the Triple Crown because owner Sam Riddle had a bias against the Kentucky Derby. Thus the legendary champion had to settle for dominating the Preakness and Belmont; the oblique glory of drubbing Sir Barton in their match race; and siring two Derby winners, Clyde Van Dusen (1929) preceding War Admiral. Man o’ War, as a son of leading sire Fair Play, traced to the first English Triple Crown winner, West Australian (1853), in his tail-male ancestry.

War Admiral was produced by Brushup, a daughter of champion and influential sire Sweep. The hero of the 1910 Belmont, Sweep was bred on a potent cross being by 1896 Kentucky Derby star Ben Brush and out of a Domino mare. Brushup’s dam, Annette K., was imported in utero. Although her sire Harry of Hereford was obscure, he was a full brother to English classic winner and important sire Swynford.


Sire *Blenheim II closed with a rush to snatch the 1930 Epsom Derby in what turned out to be his final start. Imported after siring *Mahmoud, himself a record-setting Derby winner at Epsom in 1936, Blenheim is in exclusive company for turning the Epsom/Kentucky Derby double as a sire. He sired a second winner of the “Run for the Roses” in Jet Pilot (1947). A descendant of the Swynford mentioned above, Blenheim hails from the male line of Isinglass that is also responsible (via another branch) for Sir Barton.

Whirlaway has the same broodmare sire as War Admiral. His dam, the Sweep mare Dustwhirl, was a half-sister to two horses who suffered tough beats in the Kentucky Derby – Osmand was headed by Whiskery in the 1927 Run for the Roses, and Brevity, the 4-5 favorite in 1936, was unlucky to miss by the same margin after a rough start. Dustwhirl also produced a Kentucky Derby placer in Reaping Reward, Whirlaway’s older half-brother and third to War Admiral in 1937.


The centerpiece of a three-generation triptych of Derby heroes, Count Fleet is by 1928 winner Reigh Count and in turn sired Count Turf (1951) to complete the sequence. Reigh Count was a grandson of the exceptional British sprinter Sundridge, twice a winner of Royal Ascot’s King’s Stand and a three-peater in the July Cup at Newmarket. Sent to England as a 4-year-old, Reigh Count won the 1929 Coronation Cup at Epsom and finished second in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Count Fleet was out of Quickly, by 1926 Withers winner and Belmont third Haste, from the immediate family of the world record-setting sprinter Bolero. Count Fleet’s third dam, 1916 Alabama heroine Malachite, was herself a half to 1912 Kentucky Derby victor Worth.

ASSAULT (1946)

Sire Bold Venture won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1936, but unfortunately sustained a career-ending injury. Yet another scion of the Swynford line, Bold Venture proved subfertile like several other standouts by his sire, *St Germans. He managed to get another Derby winner in Middleground (1951), who was likewise plagued by fertility woes. Assault too inherited the affliction and turned out to be sterile.

Assault’s dam, Igual, was by Hall of Famer Equipoise, dubbed the “Chocolate Soldier” by his fans, in homage to his rich coloring as well as his bravery. A remnant of the old Domino/Ben Brush cross, Equipoise sadly died young or else he might have left a more substantial imprint at stud. Turning to Igual’s maternal line, she was a granddaughter of Masda, a full sister to Man o’ War.


Sire Bull Lea won the 1938 Blue Grass, finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, and added the valuable Widener H. in 1939 in a useful racing career that was eclipsed by his prolific record at stud. Aside from several Hall of Famers, he got a total of three Derby winners rounded out by Hill Gail (1952) and Iron Liege (1957). Bull Lea’s sire, *Bull Dog, was a full brother to Gallant Fox’s sire, Sir Gallahad III. Imported from France precisely because of his sibling’s smash hit with the 1930 Triple Crown winner, Bull Dog became an even more pronounced influence on the breed.

Citation’s dam, *Hydroplane II, was a British blueblood imported during World War II. Acquired by Calumet Farm from her breeder Lord Derby, she was the daughter of champions bred in the purple themselves. By the great Hyperion, victorious in the 1933 Epsom Derby and St Leger and a renowned patriarch, she was produced by Toboggan, the 1928 Epsom Oaks winner who’d taken the prestigious Dewhurst as a juvenile.


Sire Bold Ruler came out on top of his all-star crop when voted Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old colt of 1957. Although his lone classic victory came in the Preakness, bracketed by losses in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont, Bold Ruler’s front-running coup in the Trenton H. clinched it. In 1958, he took champion sprinter honors, but again carried his speed as far as 1 1/4 miles. A grandson of the unbeaten Italian supremo Nearco, via his beautifully bred son *Nasrullah, Bold Ruler became the leading U.S. sire a remarkable eight times, begetting 11 champions.

Secretariat was produced by Somethingroyal, who was arguably unlucky not to have two classic-winning offspring. Her son Sir Gaylord, was the favorite for the 1962 Kentucky Derby, only to be retired due to injury on the eve of the race. Another of Secretariat’s half-siblings, First Family, was leading in the 1965 Belmont but was collared late and relegated to a close third. Somethingroyal was the result of a marriage of opposites – by the high-class stamina influence *Princequillo and out of the speedster Imperatrice, who starred in the 1941 Test and beat males in the 1942 Fall Highweight H.


Also from the Bold Ruler line, Seattle Slew descended via Boldnesian, the 1966 Santa Anita Derby winner who never raced again, and his son Bold Reasoning, hero of the 1971 Withers and Jersey Derby. Ironically, this onetime lesser offshoot has now become ascendant thanks to the prepotency of “Slew.”

Seattle Slew is bred on a cross similar to Secretariat. He is the first foal from 1972 Fair Grounds Oaks winner My Charmer, by the Princequillo-line stallion Poker, a son of Round Table (Bold Ruler’s old rival). My Charmer achieved the distinction of producing a European classic winner as well in Lomond, successful in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1983, and her multiple Irish Group 2-winning son Seattle Dancer was runner-up in the Grand Prix de Paris. My Charmer was inbred to the dynamic full sisters Striking and Hall of Famer Busher, both by War Admiral and out of a daughter of blue hen *La Troienne. While they appeared in the interior of her pedigree, My Charmer’s maternal line traced to the noted matron Frizette, by way of Hall of Famer Myrtlewood and 1948 champion 2-year-old filly Myrtle Charm.


Native Dancer suffered his only career loss in the 1953 Derby and thus missed the Triple Crown by a brutal head. But the “Gray Ghost” has been gaining posthumous revenge through his descendants for decades. His brilliant son Raise a Native, 4-for-4 in his truncated career, has been the key link in the chain. The Raise a Native stallion Exclusive Native furnished the sire line’s first Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, who had to earn it by outdueling Raise a Native’s son Alydar. Exclusive Native came up with another Derby star when Genuine Risk (1980) made history as only the second filly to wear the roses.

Affirmed is out of Won’t Tell You, whose pedigree harkens back to the old Triple Crown bloodlines of the 1930s. Her sire Crafty Admiral, the champion handicap horse of 1952, is by Gallant Fox’s full brother Fighting Fox and out of a War Admiral mare. Gallant Fox himself factors in the maternal half of Won’t Tell You, whose maternal line traces to the fine sprinter Correction, a full sister to Domino.


The second Triple Crown winner for the Raise a Native line, American Pharoah descends via his most prolific son, Mr. Prospector, sire of Fappiano, the sire of Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Unbridled (1990). Unbridled joined the exclusive club of Derby winners siring Derby winners, thanks to Grindstone (1996). But Unbridled’s principal avenue is through his son who was runner-up in the 2003 Derby, Empire Maker, in turn responsible for Pioneerof the Nile. Second in the 2009 Derby to Mine That Bird (ironically a paternal grandson of Grindstone), Pioneerof the Nile raised his historical stature by siring a Triple Crown winner.

American Pharoah’s dam, Littleprincessemma, is by the Storm Cat stallion Yankee Gentleman. (Since Storm Cat is out of a Secretariat mare, “Pharoah” can count him as an ancestor.) Littleprincessemma has since produced Grade 1-placed American Cleopatra, a full sister to Pharoah, and 2018 Starlet vixen Chasing Yesterday (by Tapit). This family was cultivated by Fred W. Hooper, an institution in Florida breeding, and American Pharoah’s sixth dam was by Hooper’s 1945 Derby hero, Hoop, Jr.

JUSTIFY (2018)

Nearco’s grandson Northern Dancer, the 1964 Derby hero, has conquered the globe as a breed-shaping patriarch, but not until two years ago did his male line finally yield a Triple Crown winner. The breakthrough came via the branch of his European champion son Storm Bird, sire of Storm Cat, whose son Hennessy got transatlantic champion juvenile Johannesburg, sire of Scat Daddy who bequeathed Justify. Both Johannesburg, winner of the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Scat Daddy, the Champagne and Florida Derby victor, had disappointed in their respective Derby tilts (2002 and 2007, respectively).

Justify is out of the Grade 3-placed Stage Magic, by Hall of Famer Ghostzapper. Himself a Northern Dancer-line stallion descended via the Vice Regent/Deputy Minister branch, Ghostzapper emulated his sire Awesome Again by winning the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Stage Magic’s dam is by Pulpit, in turn a son of A.P. Indy who boasts Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Secretariat as his sire and broodmare sire.

One of Justify’s intriguing pedigree patterns is inbreeding to Northern Dancer’s legendary son Nijinsky II, the last horse to complete the English Triple Crown in 1970. Thus the American Triple Crown pedigrees come full circle, underscoring the significance of the original British classics for our own.

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