Bennett Liebman, executive director of the Government Law Center of Albany Law School, had an interesting post on the New York Times The Rail blog May 24 titled The First American Triple Crown Series. Mr. Liebman, who in previous writings has researched the origins of the term “Triple Crown” as it applies to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, writes here that the Coney Island Jockey Club actually instituted a triple crown for a series of races for 3-year-olds in 1907 at the Sheepshead Bay race course that predates the Triple Crown we know. Click here to read what The Times wrote about this in 1907. Here’s a quote from the Times: “The three events include two famous old fixtures of Sheepshead Bay racing — the Tidal and the Lawrence Realization — and the new fixture, the Coney Island Jockey Club Stakes. These events are at different distances, with the conditions of each so arranged as to make the winning of any one a crown of fame to the victor, the added prize will be a reward in substance, aside from the fame that must go to the conqueror that carries away the triple crown.”
A year earlier writing in The Rail, on April 24, 2008, Mr. Liebman had a post titled Origins of Triple Crown. Here he researched and disputed the widely held 1930 coining of the term by Charles Hatton in The Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form and wrote that the Times should actually get the credit for using the term as it applied to the three American classics. He wrote: “The Times first used ‘triple crown’ to describe the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont in 1923 at a time when Hatton was at most 17 years old. The Times wrote in a year where the Preakness preceded the Derby, ‘Thomas J. Healey had Walter J. Salmon’s Preakness winner, Vigil, and his owner wired today that he would be here’ — in Louisville, Ky. — ‘Friday to see his colt try to capture his second classic in the triple crown of the American turf.'”
Mr. Liebman also wrote in the same post that in 1930 — the same year that Hatton first used the term — Times reporter Bryan Field was regularly referring to the three races as the Triple Crown. The antecedent, of course, was the English Triple Crown, which consists of the 2000 Guineas, Derby, and St. Leger.
There’s of course a triple crown in baseball, too, for the leader by batting average, home runs, and RBIs — and it’s just as elusive as in racing.
I came across a “scholarly” paper with footnotes on the Internet titled Where Did the “Triple Crown” Come From? — no author named — that references baseball’s triple crown and more clearly investigates the origins of the term for the classics. I suspect Mr. Liebman wrote it because it’s posted on a server of the Government Law Center of Albany Law School, where he works, and it has much of the verbiage of the two posts on The Rail. He concludes: “By the time Omaha won the Triple Crown in 1935, there were regular references to the Triple Crown in the media. It had been popularized. But the fact is that the term ‘Triple Crown’ was used before and during the time that Gallant Fox won the Triple Crown [in 1930]. Charles Hatton may, in fact, have popularized the expression. He certainly did not coin it.”
There you have it.