For 37 years, no horse has managed to achieve horse racing’s greatest accomplishment: the Triple Crown. This grueling task asks these horses to go from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky to the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, and finally to Belmont Park in Elmont, New York to achieve glory. Many have tried and failed since the last winner.
The American Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing is a title awarded to a three-year-old horse who manages to win on the dirt tracks at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in a five-week period, starting on the first Saturday in May and ending on a Saturday in early June. Affirmed was the last horse to win the Triple Crown in 1978. Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, I’ll Have Another and California Chrome are the 13 horses who have tried and failed to become Triple Crown winners since Affirmed accomplished the feat.
On June 6, 2015, American Pharoah became the 14th horse to take a shot at the Triple Crown. The downfall for many horses comes in the final leg, with their competitors being rested horses who have only raced one or none of the Triple Crown races. The Belmont Stakes is often referred to as “The Test of the Champion,” due to the length of the race. It is one and a half miles, or approximately 2,400 meters, while the Kentucky Derby is one and a quarter miles, or 2,000 meters, and the Preakness Stakes is one and three-sixteenth miles, or 1,900 meters.
The Belmont Stakes had a crowd of over 90,000 looking to see history be made. The start of the race saw American Pharoah leaning back, which caused him to start a touch late once the gates were opened. However, a start-to-finish lead was maintained by the colt even after Materiality and Frosted made late charges before fading. American Pharoah ended the 37-year drought to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in history. The five-and-a-half lengths win was the seventh fastest time in Belmont Stakes history at 2:26.65.
American Pharoah’s team includes owner Ahmed Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza. Zayat made it clear his goal was to win the Kentucky Derby which had previously eluded him, evidenced by the three second-place finishes he has to his name. This year he had a horse that managed to win not only the Kentucky Derby, but the entire Triple Crown.
Baffert is a Hall-of-Famer who has countless earnings, due to his ability to have his horses finish on the podium over and over. His list of accomplishments includes Silver Charm, Real Quiet, War Emblem and American Pharoah winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He may now add a Triple Crown–winning horse to that list.
Espinoza took over as jockey after American Pharoah finished fifth in his maiden race. That blemish remains the colt’s only one since his debut. Espinoza has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes three times apiece and the Belmont Stakes once. He came into the Belmont Stakes looking for his first Triple Crown after being denied in 2002 with War Emblem and last year with California Chrome, entering into this year’s Belmont Stakes with American Pharoah for his third Triple Crown opportunity, a record currently unmatched by any other jockey. At 43 years old, Espinoza is the oldest jockey to win a Triple Crown and is also the first Hispanic jockey to accomplish the feat.
Triple Crown–winner American Pharoah will now grace the cover of Sports Illustrated and Vogue magazines. Zayat has reiterated he plans to have the colt retire by the end of the year. He sees the Breeders’ Cup Classic in October as a fitting finale for American Pharoah.
American Pharoah will retire to Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky, who purchased the horse’s stud rights for over $20 million. The colt will go down in the history books as the 12th Triple Crown winner—ending a 37-year streak without a winner—and could also be credited with revitalizing the sport of horse racing.