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Chase Triple Crown

The concept of the Triple Crown is a concept that reverberates around the world of sport.  Win three, and you have achieved something exceptional.

The Triple Crown has a resonance in rugby, motorsport, tennis, baseball.  In horse racing, its meaning largely depends on your continent of origin.  If you are European, it’s Guineas, Derby, St Leger.  If you are American, it’s Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes.  Neither version is easy to complete.

Before American Pharoah came along this year, you had to go back to Affirmed in 1978 to find the last American Triple Crown winner.  Remarkably, there were three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s, Seattle Slew and Secretariat – legends both – joining Affirmed on the roll of honour.  The fact that we had to wait 37 years for the next winner is testament to the magnitude of the task involved.

You have to go back to Nijinsky in 1970 to find the last racehorse to win the 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby and the St Leger.  Camelot came close in 2012, thwarted by Encke in the St Leger after bagging the first two legs, but the fact remains that Nijinsky is the only Triple Crown winner since 1935.

A Triple Crown of steeplechasing is not a new concept.  The Betfair Million was instigated in 2005, the sponsor putting up a £1 million bonus for any horse who could win the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March.  The following season, Kauto Star plundered it.

Kauto went close in 2007/08 as well, winning the first two legs before finishing second to his stable companion Denman in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.  After that, the structure of the bonus was altered to incorporate the Grand National, presumably in order to make it less winnable or, at least, less Kauto Star friendly.  Then in 2010, the bonus was discontinued.

So the fact that Jockey Club Racecourses have re-introduced the concept of a Triple Crown this season is to be applauded.  The £1 million bonus is back on the table for any horse who can win all three races.  It is an attractive incentive, but it is an appropriate bonus, commensurate with the level of difficulty involved.

Just because Kauto Star completed the Triple Crown once, and won two of the three races in the same season an incredible four times, it is not logical to conclude that it is easy.  Kauto Star was an exceptional steeplechaser.  We may never see another Kauto Star.  Just two other horses have won two legs in the same year, and neither came close to landing the third.

There are just a handful of horses who could possibly complete the Chase Triple Crown this season.  Here are the main contenders.

Don Cossack

Don Cossack is one of the most talented staying chasers in training.  He probably hasn’t got the recognition that he is due, simply because he has never won at the Cheltenham Festival, but he did remarkably well to finish third in the Ryanair Chase there last March when he didn’t have the run of the race, and he followed up by winning at Aintree and at Punchestown.

He has already proven his wellbeing this season by winning at Punchestown 10 days ago, and trainer Gordon Elliott has said that the Triple Crown is on his radar.


A top class novice hurdler two seasons ago, Vautour proved himself to be equally adept as a novice chaser last term, his season culminating in a 15-length demolition of his rivals in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham in March.  He has never been beyond two and a half miles in his life, but both trainer Willie Mullins and rider Ruby Walsh are confident that the Gold Cup route is the route for him.

Currentely ante post favourite for both the King George and the Gold Cup, the difficulty in the context of the Triple Crown is that he may not be aimed at the Betfair Chase on 21st November.  You can be sure that he will not be rushed.  Connections are talking about the Amlin Chase at Ascot over a shorter trip on the same day as his stepping stone into the season.

Silviniaco Conti

Silviniaco Conti won the first two legs of the Triple Crown last season, the Betfair Chase and the King George, and he was sent off the 3/1 favourite for the Gold Cup.  The fact that he could finish no better than seventh at Cheltenham, however, added further ballast to the notion that he may not be a Cheltenham horse.  His record there now reads 3F47.

Trainer Paul Nicholls has said that the Betfair Chase and the King George are the races for him this year, not the Gold Cup.  However, if he did happen to win those two races, the lure of a million pounds for winning at Cheltenham would surely be too strong to resist.


Djakadam ran a massive race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March as a six-year-old to finish second behind Coneygree.  He proved that day that he belongs in the top ranks of staying chasers and, still a young horse, there could be further improvement forthcoming this term.


Coneygree put up a remarkable performance to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season, leading from flagfall and making just about every yard of the running.  He was never headed.  It was quite an incredible performance by a novice.

Trainer Mark Bradstock has said that the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, not the Betfair Chase at Haydock, is Coneygree’s early-season target, that Newbury will suit Coneygree better than Haydock.  That said, he will give his horse an entry in the Haydock race.  The temptation is strong.

Don Poli

Don Poli was one of the top staying novice chasers in training last season.  Winner of the Grade 1 Topaz Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival last season, he stayed on strongly to run out an impressive winner of the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He is going to have to improve again if he is to take his place among the top staying chasers this term, but he is only six, he has raced just four times over fences, and he has bags of scope for progression.

© The Sunday Times, 25th October 2015