5 Triple Crown Horses and Music to Match: Michael Jackson, U2 and More
Fans of horse racing finally got the Triple Crown they had been waiting 37 years for when American Pharoah won at Belmont this weekend, capping off a Spring that included wins at the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby. It was the first time a horse had won the "Big 3" since Affirmed during 1978, with the horse in question finally sealing the deal in the third race. We say "finally" because it's not as if attempts at the Triple Crown are rare—13 horses won the first two legs of the Crown in the years since 1978—however the lengthier Belmont course often wore down on the hopeful horses. Music Times doesn't know much about racing, but we wanted to pay tribute to the last five Triple Crown winners with a comparable musical act, including Michael Jackson, U2 and more. Check it out:
American Pharoah (2015) = Phish
If computer and phone analytics companies could count what words were corrected the most by spellcheck, this weekend's winner easily would have been the term "pharaoh." Many a word text message/social media platform politely suggested to users after the race that perhaps they meant "pharaoh," and not "Pharoah," as the former was the correct spelling for the ancient rulers of Egypt. Perhaps many users didn't even realize the name was a misspelling but indeed, owner Ahmed Zayat confirmed that there wasn't much he could do about the misspelling, as a computer error had essentially made the mistake permanent (we're sure he doesn't care much either, considering the horse has now won him more than $4.5 million). There are a great deal of bands that have, more intentionally, brutally misspelled the words they take their names after. Our first option would have been Def Leppard, probably the most successful misspelling in terms of album sales, but that didn't seem right, considering that Pharoah is clearly labelled as "American" and Leppard is British. Therefore we opted for Phish, the most popular jam band in the modern age. That group, like the champ, has proven itself adept at both short and lengthy jams.
Affirmed (1978) = U2
There are two ways that a racehorse can be considered financially: One way is the amount of money it brings in by winning races and the other, generally more lucrative option, is how much it generates for the foals that it sires. Thoroughbred racing's big winners live a life Wilt Chamberlain would die for, essentially expected to father children for the rest of their days. Affirmed was obviously a stud in the racing sense, winning the Triple Crown during 1978, but he proved even more potent off the course, siring more than 80 horses who have won stakes (raking in more than $44 million between them) and himself being syndicated for a then-record $14.4 million. We compare U2 to him with relation to this last point...obviously not because of the feathering statistics (presumably). U2 holds the record for the biggest record deal for a living performer, signing a deal worth nearly $200 million with Polydor Records. When you're willing to pay that much for a band, it had better be affirmed that it'll turn a profit.
Seattle Slew (1977) = Pearl Jam
Seattle Slew is one of the most famous racehorses in history and there's not much doubt about why. Slew was the only thoroughbred in history to win the Triple Crown while boasting an undefeated record. All other competitors, including Pharoah, had lost previous contests while "warming up" for the big show. Slew was unbeatable however. You can argue that he still wasn't the best racer in history—just as you can argue that Floyd Mayweather isn't the best boxer in history—but their competitive records stand for themselves. There are a host of amazing musical acts that have come out of Seattle over the years, from the iconic Bing Crosby to guitar god Jimi Hendrix, and all of the grunge classics. We figured the closest thing to Seattle Slew had to be Pearl Jam however. Why? It was the closest the city has come to an "undefeated" band on the albums chart, with its second through fourth albums debuting at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. Its debut, Ten, never reached the top spot, but went 12 times platinum by the end of the decade. And, for the record, Slew eventually lost two races in the twilight of his career.
Secretariat (1973) = Michael Jackson
Secretariat is a god among horses. Again, we're not horse racing experts, but we've got to raise an eyebrow at the Sports Illustrated ranking that listed Secretariat as second behind Man o' War among the greatest horses of all time. Man o' War didn't win a Triple Crown and, more importantly, Secretariat owns the record at all three races involved in the feat. The Derby, Preakness, Belmont: This horse has the fastest time in history at all three. And it's not like golf or baseball, where you can argue about the equipment used in different eras affected the way the game was played. This is horse racing. The name that immediately came to mind when looking for a comparable musician was Michael Jackson, namely for his work with Thriller. At the time of its creation, nothing in the history of music, from Quincy Jones' compositions to its epic music videos, was bigger than Thriller. And the sales prove it. Tracking numbers wasn't as huge back in the day, so estimates put total sales for the album between 51 and 65 million total copies, at least six million more than the next competitor, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon. Domination.
Citation (1948) = Enrico Caruso
Citation wasn't the first horse to boast the Triple Crown—it had happened seven times previously—but it was the first to claim more than $1 million in prizes while doing so. Although those numbers have obviously been trumped in more recent decades, thanks to both more attention and inflation, the idea of a million-dollar horse was incredible nearly 70 years ago. It got us thinking about who was most likely to have been the first musician to bring in seven figures from their work. There's no historical data that gives a firm answer, however the most popular option was Enrico Caruso, an Italian tenor who played before sellout crowds at the Metropolitan Opera and also sold millions of recordings during the first 20 years of the 20th Century. Many performers in his time rejected the phonograph, assuming that it would burn out. Needless to say, it didn't, and he reaped the benefits. For the record, another possible competitor to be music's first millionaire was Al Jolson...but as he made his money by largely performing in blackface, we decided to just stick with Caruso.