Three really is a magic number, and we love it when things happen in threes. It’s very exciting in sports, like when a hockey player scores three goals in one game, which is called a hat trick. An even more exciting threesome is the triplet of major US horse races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, which happens tonight, and the Belmont Stakes. When the same horse wins all three of those races in the same year, it’s called a Triple Crown. This almost never happens: only 11 horses have ever managed to do it, and the most recent did so in 1978! But every year since Sir Barton won all three in 1919, we wait with bated breath to see if the Derby winner can at least win the Preakness and set the stage for a triple crown…and tonight it’s Orb’s big chance.
Wee ones: If a horse wins the first 2 of the 3 major races, how many races does the horse have left to win to score a Triple Crown?
Little kids: Starting in 2002, 5 horses have won the first 2 races but not the third, including I’ll Have Another last year. How many years from 2002 through 2012 have we not had a double winner? Bonus: From 2002 to 2012, how many major races were run in total?
Big kids: The last horse to get a Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978. How many years ago was that? Bonus: If 20 horses ran in each race, and each time they all had the same chance of winning, what are the chances of the Derby winner winning the Triple Crown?
Wee ones: 1 more race.
Little kids: That span includes 11 seasons, not 10 (this is the “fencepost problem” where you have to count both ends), so there have been 6 years with no double winner. Bonus: 33 races in those 11 years.
Big kids: 35 years. Bonus: 1 in 400. The winner of the first has a 1/20th chance the second time, and then faces those chances again. (Just to clarify, the chances of a specific horse winning all three are 1 in 8000, whereas the chances of any horse winning all three are 1 in 400.)