Lexington, KY - In all of sports, it is arguably the rarest and toughest of feats to accomplish: the Triple Crown (TC). Only 11 horses have won the honor, the first in 1919 (Sir Barton) and the most recent in 1978 (Affirmed).
But all eyes were fixed on this year’s Belmont and “I’ll Have Another,” the horse that won the first two TC races (The Kentucky Derby and the Preakness) before the unbelievable happened the day before the race at the New York track; the Crown hopeful was scratched due to a leg injury and once again a shot at the illusive title would have to wait another year.
That wait now goes beyond three-decades, more than a generation ago. But despite the recent flurry of negative press pointed at the racing industry due to the unfortunate news, there is still good news for Kentucky’s storied thoroughbred industry.
The overwhelming majority of top horses have always come from the Bluegrass, and they still do. Eight of the 11 winners were bred here and all but one of the horses that were contenders for the honor were Kentucky-breds, according to David Switzer, executive director of the of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.
“We consistently produce 30 percent of the North American foal crop,” he said. “The next closest would possibly be Florida with maybe 10 percent.”
That equates to approximately 30,000 foals each year.
“One of the things that separates us from any other place in the world is the infrastructure we have,” Switzer said. “The fact that we’ve got a concentration of world-class veterinarians, farm managers, blacksmiths, research people, nutritionists; there are excellent veterinarians and blacksmiths in other parts of the world but not the concentration that we have in Kentucky.”
Switzer also made note that a foal begins the journey to becoming a great horse almost immediately.
“It starts 24 hours after they’re born when they’re turned out for the first time. They start their training right there, going up and down our undulating fields building muscle and they get the best nutrition and best care in the world,” he said. “That’s why eight of the 11 Triple Crown winners are Kentucky bred, 76 percent of the Kentucky Derby winners are Kentucky bred and 74 percent year-in, year-out of the Breeders Cup winners are Kentucky bred, it’s because we know how to raise a good horse.”