I feel like it had gotten to the point that the American public was so jaded, it was convinced that we would never see a Triple Crown winner again. Not under the current racing standards, that is.
Much to my surprise, American Pharoah proved many doubters wrong today. And, in doing so, the American thoroughbred made horse racing history.
The Kentucky-bred three-year-old foaled on February 2, 2012 became the first racehorse since 1978 to successfully complete the Triple Crown, by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and today’s Belmont Stakes all in the same year. Heading into Belmont, there were many a casual racing fan who were too skeptical to believe that any racehorse could pull off such a task. After all, 13 worthy horses came into the Belmont Stakes with a shot at racing immortality since 1978.
That includes 1998’s Real Quiet, who literally lost the Belmont Stakes by a nose.
That includes 2008’s Big Brown, who was derailed by a dislodged horseshoe.
That includes 2014’s California Chrome, whose controversial nasal strip only helped him muster a 4th-place finish.
And today, there seemed to be too much riding against American Pharoah, who was ridden to the front of the pack from the very beginning of the race. Given that racehorses on the Belmont – a 12-furlong stretch of track that was much longer, compared to the tracks at the Derby and the Preakness – usually fade down the stretch, it seemed that fate would not be with Bob Baffert’s prized colt on this day. It was a fate that wasn’t with three of his previous horses, those that knocked at the Triple Crown’s door and failed (Silver Charm, 1997; Real Quiet; War Emblem, 2002).
Then there was the fact that all of American Pharoah’s competitors had not raced in both of the previous two Triple Crown legs. Six of them had raced in either the Derby or Preakness, while the other (Madefromlucky) had raced in neither, having taken on Pharoah at the Arkansas Derby. Racing all three legs of the Triple Crown had taken a toll on previous finalists for the Triple Crown, and most of them had to face fresh competition, who had no such fatigue.
Finally, there were even scientific studies done – based on the anatomy of an average racehorse put against the rested field and the conditions of the feat, itself – that claimed winning a Triple Crown in today’s horse racing climate was virtually impossible.
But the colt born on Groundhog Day was not destined to repeat the feat of his 13 predecessors. Jockeyed by veteran Victor Espinoza, who failed to close out the Belmont with War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome in 2014, American Pharoah did not start strong out of the gate. However, he took the lead before the first turn and never relinquished it. Materiality attempted a strong push against American Pharoah, but couldn’t overcome the colt down the stretch.
As American Pharoah widened his lead down the final stretch, with nary a competitor within five and a half lengths of him, it was a sight to behold, let alone try to believe: the three-year-old from Kentucky was going to win the Triple Crown for the first time in nearly four decades.
The impossible happened. Bob Baffert finally had his big winner. And the sporting world witnessed the unthinkable.
With that, I say congratulations to Victor Espinoza, Bob Baffert and American Pharoah. It was a privilege to watch a historic event on the racetrack at Belmont. If only I could have been there in person.