Poker's Triple Crown Mirrors the Sport of Kings

Triple Crown
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  • Horse racing has now had 13 Triple Crown winners, while poker has eight of its own.

  • Four poker players are just a @WSOP bracelet away from Triple Crown honors. Can you name them?

In 2008, Gavin Griffin added a World Poker Tour (WPT) title to his 2004 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet win and his 2007 European Poker Tour (EPT) victory, and thus was born a new honor in poker: the Triple Crown. Of course, this elite title was not poker’s creation, and in light of Justify becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner in horse racing, we take this opportunity to pay homage to the origins of the term.

The Triple Crown has a rich history in horse racing, dating back to 1919 when Sir Barton became the first three-year-old thoroughbred to win the three major American races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The term "Triple Crown" itself was first used by journalists to describe the feat in 1923, according to Wikipedia, and was solidified in horse racing terminology in 1930 when it first appeared in the Daily Racing Form.

Justify Joins the Legends

On Saturday, Justify added his name to the history books as the 13th colt to capture the Triple Crown, going wire-to-wire in the Belmont Stakes in New York after winning the first two legs last month.

Though American Pharoah’s 2015 Triple Crown win was more historic, as it ended a 37-year drought for the title, Justify’s performance was quite remarkable in its own right. The horse raced for the first time on February 18 and won his first three races to qualify for the prestigious Kentucky Derby.

On a sloppy track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on May 5, Justify became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby having never raced as a two-year-old.

Justify then won the Preakness in a thick cloud of fog and slop in Baltimore on May 19 by half a length before closing out the third race on Saturday in New York to become the second horse in history to do so with an undefeated record. The other was Seattle Slew in 1977, a horse in the lineage of Justify.

Bloodlines matter in horse racing, a fact supported by the 1930 and 1935 Triple Crown wins by father (sire) and son duo Gallant Fox and Omaha, both trained by the same Jim Fitzsimmons. The last Triple Crown winner before Justify, American Pharoah, descended from the late great Secretariat, one of the greatest horses in racing history who still holds speed records in all three major races. You can watch his historic run in the Belmont Stakes from 45 years ago that is still considered one of the greatest races of all time.

Trainers and jockeys also matter, and Bob Baffert became the second in history at the Belmont to have trained two horses that captured the Triple Crown. Legendary jockey Mike Smith rode Justify in the horse’s last five races and found himself at the peak of his career at age 52, the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown, as he stood in the most prestigious winner’s circle that exists in his profession.

Poker's Own Triple Crown

The parallels to poker should be apparent, and although poker’s version of the Triple Crown doesn’t have near the length of history as horse racing's version, it’s still a great honor and difficult feat, only accomplished by eight players to date.

It wasn't even possible to win all three until 2004, when the EPT was born, but with the tour's rebranding to PokerStars Championship and PokerStars Festivals in 2017, the definition of the Triple Crown became muddled. Though the EPT brand did return in 2018, it did so on a smaller scale than before, only offering four stops as opposed to more than ten in previous years.

That fact, coupled with the recent additions of other highly-regarded events like partypoker LIVE and 888poker Live, call into question the once clearly-defined and easily-justified three tours that made up the Crown. For now, the definition remains intact, and a handful of players could even add their names to the following elite list at this year's WSOP.

Poker’s Triple Crown Winners

PlayerWSOP braceletWPT titleEPT titleTime span
Gavin Griffin2004200820073 years, 8 months, 17 days
Roland De Wolfe2009200520063 years, 10 months, 17 days
Jake Cody2011201020101 year, 4 months, 11 days
Bertrand Grospellier2011200820083 years, 5 months, 5 days
Davidi Kitai2008201120123 years, 10 months
Mohsin Charania2017201320125 years, 2 months
Harrison Gimbel2017201620107 years, 6 months
Niall Farrell2017201620152 years, 1 month

Only a WSOP bracelet away are Mike Watson, Roberto Romanello, Andrey Pateychuk and Moritz Kranich, who could all potentially clinch the Triple Crown this summer. Another 11 players are missing only the WPT leg of the trio, while a whopping 50 have WPT and WSOP titles but haven't won an EPT. If the trend of limited EPT stops continues, it will be toughest for the latter group to win poker's classic version of the Triple Crown.

Either way, there's a place in history for all who showcase their stellar talent by finishing atop three elite competitions in their respective sports, be it in poker or "The Sport of Kings." The window for the runners in the latter is much more brief though, with less room for error. For those 13 horses that approached the gate in the third race of the Triple Crown, it was a must-win.

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