Bucking all odds on a beautiful sunny late Saturday afternoon in front of over 90,000 people at Belmont Park, American Pharoah accomplished one of the rare feats in sport. He became the first horse in 37 years and just the 12th horse ever to win the Triple Crown.
The last horse to win all three of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont was Affirmed in 1978. Since then, 13 horses have come to this historic track having won the first two legs of the Crown. All had failed, raising doubts whether the quest was still attainable for the modern thoroughbred.
The heavily favored colt completed the quest by running away from seven rivals in the Belmont Stakes, three weeks after a rain-soaked dash in the Preakness and five weeks after a gritty, stretch-duel victory in the Kentucky Derby.
American Pharoah’s name now moves into the history books alongside equine immortals like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Citation and War Admiral. And horse racing finally has the superstar it has hungered for – a fluid athlete with a massive stride who seems to float over the ground.
The result gave triumphant closure to trainer Bob Baffert’s 18-year quest to win the Triple Crown. Three times previously, he had won the Derby and Preakness only to encounter Belmont heartbreak. In 1997, his Silver Charm was passed in deep stretch. In ’98, Real Quiet was nipped at the wire. And in 2002, front-running War Emblem stumbled leaving the gate and was never a factor.
Now the 62-year-old Californian finally has his Triple Crown and after three times famed jockey, the 43-year-old Victor Espinoza also left Belmont a winner. Espinoza had been the rider on War Emblem, and on California Chrome last year. He is the first native of Mexico to win the Triple Crown.
Finally, for American Pharoah’s owner, Ahmed Zayat, who in less than a decade has become one of the most impactful owners in thoroughbred racing. The 52-year-old Egyptian immigrant had finished second in four Triple Crown races before this year – three times in the Derby (2009, ’11 and ’12) and once in the Belmont (‘12).
One of Zayat’s Derby runner-ups, Pioneerof The Nile, is the sire of American Pharoah. The Zayat homebred established himself as a special horse very quickly.
American Pharoah finished fifth in his debut race as a 2-year-old last August, and has been simply brilliant ever since. This was his seventh straight victory at six different racetracks.
After dominating the competition in Arkansas in March and April, American Pharoah came to Kentucky as the Derby favorite. It took a vigorous ride by Espinoza to budge Pharoah past Firing Line and Dortmund in the stretch at Churchill Downs, but the colt showed his tenacity in winning the roses. He then came back two weeks later and obliterated the field in the Preakness, dancing over a sloppy track to set the stage for this history-making Belmont triumph.
*The video comes from NBC Sports and some information used in this story came from AP