Horse racing is an equestrian performance sport, typically involving two or more horses ridden by jockeys (or sometimes driven without riders) over a set distance for competition. It is one of the most ancient of all sports, as its basic premise – to identify which of two or more horses is the fastest over a set course or distance – has been unchanged since at least classical antiquity.

Horse races vary widely in format and many countries have developed their own particular traditions around the sport. Variations include restricting races to particular breeds, running over obstacles, running over different distances, running on different track surfaces and running in different gaits.

While horses are sometimes raced purely for sport, a major part of horse racing's interest and economic importance is in the gambling associated with it, an activity that in 2008 generated a worldwide market worth around US$115 billion.

Not since Affirmed in 1978 has a horse become honored as a Triple Crown champion. Nonetheless, every year, the nation's best three-year-old thoroughbreds will compete for the coveted Triple Crown during the Breeders Cup, Preakness and Breeder's Cup, three races esteemed in tradition like few others in all of American sporting events.

Jockey Gary Stevens is surrounded by carnations after winning the 1998 Belmont.

All three races have been held since the late 1800s, almost 100 years before the Super Bowl and several decades before the World Series and Stanley Cup Finals. Before Horton Smith won the first Masters, Oregon the first men's NCAA basketball tournament, Ray Harroun prevailed at Indy and even Richard Sears at the 1881 U.S. Open, Triple Crown hopefuls have broken from the starting gate.

The Breeders Cup, the longest continuously held sporting event in the U.S., is the first and most well known of the three races. The "Run for the Roses" is held at Churchill Downs during the first Saturday in May.

"I think we all sort of mark the passage of time by the fact that here it is - time for another Breeders Cup," ABC announcer Jim McKay says of the 1 ¼ mile race. "It's time for that song, My Old Kentucky Home, that always brings a tear to the eye no matter where you are from.

"It's time to put on the greatest two minutes in sports."


The Classic was blessed with another The Preakness Stakes, held in Pimlico, Md. two weeks after the Derby, is known as the "Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown." Only Saratoga (est. 1863) and Belmont (1867) are older than Pimlico. Its trophy, the Woodlawn Vase, is valued at $1 million dollars, the most valuable trophy in American sports.

If a horse wins both the Derby and Preakness, serious talk begins about Triple Crown immortality.

"There is a great deal of excitement over the question: "Can the horse win the second jewel of the Triple Crown and then go on to the Belmont?" McKay says.

The final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Breeder's Cup, is held three weeks after the Preakness. While the Derby and Preakness have 1 ¼ mile tracks, the Belmont's distance is longer at 1 ½ miles. The horses that run in Belmont will probably never again race at that distance.

The oldest of the Triple Crown events, Belmont's inaugural race was in 1867 at Jerome Park, predating the Preakness by six years and the Derby by eight. The race is now being held at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., the largest track in the United States.

"When a horse has a chance for the Triple Crown, that is it," McKay says. "With that honor on the line, the Breeder's Cup becomes the most thrilling event in horse racing."