No thoroughbred in horse racing history has come closer to winning the Triple Crown than Real Quiet without pulling it off.
The son of Quiet American and Really Blue, Real Quiet won or placed in 17 of 20 career starts and earned over $ 3,200,000 in less than three seasons of racing. The bay colt’s bloodlines include Nashua, 1955 winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and three-time Horse-of-the-Year Native Dancer.
In the summer of 1998, Real Quiet won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, then was nosed out of becoming racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner after losing the Belmont Stakes in a photo finish. His four-inch margin of defeat remains the closest finish in the 149-year history of the Belmont.
Foaled at Little Hill Farm in Ocala, Florida, March 5, 1995, Real Quiet started slowly. Nicknamed “The Fish” by trainer Bob Baffert because he was so narrow, Real Quiet was purchased by Mike Pegram at auction as a yearling for $ 17,000.
Skinny and with crooked knees, the horse lost his first six events and won only two of his first dozen races. At two, Real Quiet won the Hollywood Futurity, then burst on the scene as a three-year-old.
Real Quiet engaged in a contentious battle with Victory Gallop in all three Triple Crown races in 1998. Ridden by hall-of-fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, he went off as the fifth favorite at the Kentucky Derby, where he took the lead on the final turn and held off a charge from Victory Gallop to win.
Two weeks later at Pimlico, the smallish colt beat his rival by two-and-a-quarter lengths to take the $ 650,000 first-place prize at the Preakness.
Entering the 1998 Belmont Stakes, a mile-and-a-half endurance contest dubbed The Test of the Champion, more men had walked on the moon  than won the Triple Crown of horse racing . The last horse to do it was Affirmed, who had accomplished the feat two decades earlier.
Baffert had won the first two legs of the trifecta the prior year with Silver Charm, only to lose when Touch Gold caught him in the final yards at Belmont.
Victory Gallop was ridden by Gary Stevens, who had been aboard Silver Charm when he made his unsuccessful Triple Crown bid one year earlier.
Going off as the favorite at the Belmont Stakes, Real Quiet ran to the lead at the halfway point. He took a commanding margin at the top of the stretch, which he lengthened to five lengths in the final furlong.
With the wire in sight, both Desormeaux and his horse lost focus, and Victory Gallop and Stevens refused to pack it in. The two horses had run away from the field and were separated by an eyelash coming down the interminably long stretch, with Victory Gallop charging on the outside.
The race was so close, none of the 80,162 fans at Belmont Park – the second-largest crowd in the history of the event — was sure who won.
Track officials reviewed the photo finish. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one was worth five million — the cash bonus offered by VISA to any horse who won that year’s Triple Crown.
After viewing the images, Victory Gallop was declared the winner by a nose. “Being beat at the finish line, it hurts a lot,” said Desormeaux. “Nearing the finish line, I could taste it, and I even felt it for a moment.” Baffert took his second straight loss of the Triple Crown stoically. “He just ran out of gas. I’m getting closer. Silver Charm lost by three-quarters of a length, Real Quiet by a nose.”
The winner returned $ 11 for a $ 2 bet, along with the $ 600,000 purse, while Real Quiet went on to earn the Eclipse Award for best three-year old colt of the year.
Real Quiet continued to race as a four-year-old. He captured the Pimlico Special Handicap to become just the fifth horse to win both the Preakness and Pimlico Special, joining Triple Crown winners Assault, Citation, War Admiral and Whirlaway.
Real Quiet went on to win the Hollywood Gold Cup and was considered a strong contender for the Breeder’s Cup, but shortly after the Gold Cup he fractured a bone in his right front leg and never raced again.
Winner of three majors and two classics, Real Quiet entered stud in Kentucky in 2000. He sired Midnight Lute, who won back-to-back Breeder’s Cup Sprint titles, and later stood stud in Australia, Uruguay and Pennsylvania. Real Quiet died September 27, 2010, after falling in his paddock at Penn Ridge Farms in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
After winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown three times only to be denied at the Belmont Stakes, Bob Baffert finally captured the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015.