Bids for the Triple Crown: Why recent attempts have failed

When I'll Have Another attempts to complete a sweep of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes, he will be the 12th horse since 1978 poised to make history. Eleven 3-year-olds have failed since Affirmed last accomplished the feat.

The losers have included great horses such as Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence and Silver Charm, who were fully worthy of putting their names on a list with the sport's all-time greats. They also included the previously undefeated Smarty Jones and Big Brown, who looked almost invincible against weak fields and were favored at odds of less than 2 to 5. In the aftermath of the Belmont, racing fans have often hotly debated the reason for these upsets -- often with no consensus for the explanation.

In many cases, good horses have been foiled by the Belmont's 1 1/2 mile distance. In some, an outstanding horse was simply beaten by another outstanding horse. (That was clearly the case when Easy Goer defeated Sunday Silence in 1989.) A recurring factor in Belmont Stakes losses has been pilot error, from Ron Franklin's panicky ride with Spectacular Bid in 1979 to Kent Desormeaux's ill-conceived tactics aboard Big Brown in 2008. The last 11 failed Triple Crown bids:

Year Horse Finish Winner Reasons for defeat
2008 Big Brown 9 Da' Tara Poor ride; caught in traffic early.
2004 Smarty Jones 2 Birdstone Poor ride; moved too soon.
Distance too far.
2003 Funny Cide 3 Empire Maker Winner was probably the better horse.
Distance too far.
2002 War Emblem 8 Sarava Difficult trip: poor start, traffic, hard duel for lead.
Distance too far.
1999 Charismatic 3 Lemon Drop Kid Broke down at the finish line.
Questionable ride; altered usual style to duel for the lead.
1998 Real Quiet 2 Victory Gallop Questionable ride; opened huge lead on turn, weakened at wire.
1997 Silver Charm 2 Touch Gold Talented rival ran the race of his life.
1989 Sunday Silence 2 Easy Goer Lost to an equally great rival.
1987 Alysheba 4 Bet Twice Winner ran giant race.
No Lasix. (Banned in N.Y. at the time.)
Difficult trip; trouble on final turn cost 2nd-place finish.
1981 Pleasant Colony 3 Summing No evident excuse; distance too far?
1979 Spectacular Bid 3 Coastal Poor ride; went too fast too soon.

By Andrew Beyer - The Washington Post. Published June 6, 2012.