Following a 37-year draught, horse racing has a Triple Crown Winner.
In winning the Belmont Stakes, Saturday, June 6, American Pharoah became only the 12th horse in 147-years to capture one of sport’s most difficult athletic achievements: winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
From Belmont Park to the standing room only crowd of Turf Paradise’s Clubhouse and throughout the horse-racing world, fans began cheering as the eight-horse Belmont Stakes field was loaded into the starting gate. The cheering grew quickly louder. There would be no shot of hearing this race call. But that didn’t seem to matter.
Was this going to be the year? Fourteen other horses had been in this position before – winning the first two legs of the Crown – only to fail in the third and final leg, the Belmont Stakes. American Pharoah’s trainer, Nogales, Arizona native Bob Baffert had been in this position three previous times, with Indian Charlie, War Emblem and Real Quiet, only to fall short. American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, had also been in the enviable position with a shot at glory twice before, and as recently as last year with California Chrome, only to emulate Baffert and fail. Why should this year, this American Pharoah horse, be any different?
When the gate doors swung open the crowd’s cheering muted for an eternally long second or two as American Pharoah broke a tad awkwardly. Was history about to repeat itself? But Espinoza hustled American Pharoah forward and to the lead of his seven rivals into the Clubhouse turn. The Clubhouse crowd immediately went from cheering to passionate rooting of horse and rider, of American Pharoah and Espinoza, as they straightened down the backstretch.
When Materiality and John Velazquez and Mubtaahik (IRE) and Irad Ortiz came within two lengths and three lengths respectively of American Pharoah at about the mile marker, the crowd ratch-ed up their volume, as if by shouting louder it would somehow fortify American Pharoah to hold them at bay. It did.
Leading his tiring rivals into the long Belmont stretch, American Pharoah took on one last challenge from the tough-as-nails Wood Memorial winner Frosted and Joel Rosario.
The crowd took it to volume 10:
“Let him go, Victor”!
“Keeping going Pharoah”!
“You’re almost home”!
“Yes! Yes! Yes”!
Espinoza smooched at American Pharoah and the big bay colt of calm demeanor lengthened his stride effortlessly as if to say, “Not this time. Not this Belmont. Not this horse”.
With a sixteenth of a mile remaining it was clear that history was going to be made, that the draught was over, that the horse had finally arrived to add his name to the immortals amid the screaming, high-five-ing, dancing and jumping up and down, and, yes, of grown men letting tears fall, unbridled celebration.
Finally the collective world of horseplayers had been delivered to the Promised Land.
American Pharoah had won the Triple Crown!