An exclusive fraternity of American trainers, with at least one victory in each of the three Triple Crown races, exists with four active members. Three others will attempt to join the club on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, and will should they be fortunate to stand in the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner's circle.
D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert, Nick Zito and Barclay Tagg are the four active trainers that have won at least one renewal each of the Derby, Preakness (G1) and Belmont S. (G1). However, unlike the three aspiring candidates for membership (Steve Asmussen, Mark Casse, and Kenny McPeek), all four joined the historic list by winning the Belmont.
Lukas had one Derby win and three in the Preakness before saddling his first Belmont winner, Tabasco Cat, in 1994. Baffert won the Derby twice and the Preakness three times prior to Point Given's 2001 Belmont victory, while Zito had two Derby scores and one in the Preakness before upsetting the 2004 Belmont with Birdstone. Last season, Tagg won a truncated Belmont with Tiz the Law, 17 years after his Funny Cide captured the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Steve Asmussen captured the Preakness in 2007 and 2009 with Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, respectively. In 2016, the year he joined both Curlin and Rachel Alexandra in the Hall of Fame, Asmussen saddled Creator to win the Belmont.
Asmussen has been a prolific Derby presence this century with 21 starters since 2001. Although future Horses of the Year Curlin and Gun Runner fared no better than third in their respective Derby bids, Asmussen did saddle runners-up Nehro (2011) and Lookin at Lee (2017). His two candidates for this year's Derby are Arkansas Derby (G1) upsetter Super Stock and Lecomte (G3) winner Midnight Bourbon.
"The lead-up to it is going to be extremely exciting and everything feels positive at this stage," Asmussen said recently to Kentucky HBPA communications specialist Jennie Rees.
Casse, whose own official induction into the Hall of Fame was postponed from last year to this coming August, captured the 2019 editions of the Preakness and Belmont with War of Will and Sir Winston, respectively. He's had eight Derby starters since 2006, with his best finish a fourth in the 2017 edition by reigning juvenile champion Classic Empire.
Casse is also taking two shots in the Kentucky Derby, with Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Helium and Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Soup and Sandwich. Both are expected to be among the longer shots on the board.
Kenny McPeek saddled Sarava to a record upset victory in the 2002 Belmont and last fall enjoyed his first Preakness triumph with the filly Swiss Skydiver. McPeek has had only six Derby starters, but enjoyed a brief thrill when his first entrant, Tejano Run, finished second to Thunder Gulch in 1995. Unlike Asmussen and Casse, McPeek has had the opportunity of starting a post-time Derby favorite, but Harlan's Holiday could only finish seventh in 2002.
Although at this writing on the outside looking in, McPeek's Lexington (G3) winner King Fury appears to have a strong chance to move up the last couple spots needed on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard to make the field of 20 with several ahead of him on points uncertain to start.