By Susan Johnson
Some things were just meant to be. After 37 years, it was the moment we’d all been waiting for – as American Pharoah pulled off a feat that some thought would never happen again. Before a crowd of 90,000, with a 5-1/2-length victory, America’s dream horse won the 147th Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown, leading the eight-horse field wire to wire.
Good thing they put ear plugs in the eventual winner. The noise of the crowd was noticeably loud as the jockeys rode up to the starting gate. After the race was over, it was deafening. And maybe the crescendo was loud enough to drown out last year’s sour-grapes tantrum put on by Steve Coburn, the volatile co-owner of California Chrome.
It was crowded in the winner’s circle as the Zayat family, the Baffert family, and jockey Victor Espinoza rejoiced in the rare triumph of winning not one but two trophies – one for the Belmont Stakes and a special one for the Triple Crown.
An interested observer from years ago was present to help celebrate the victory. Penny Chenery, 93, owner of 1973 champion Secretariat, witnessed the latest member of “a very exclusive club,” as she said. There might still be arguments about the fairness of spacing the races over five weeks, but the 12th Triple Crown winner proved that it could be done. Some in the audience were not even born yet when the last Triple Crown went to Affirmed in 1978.
Now it’s official, American Pharoah’s fame is sure to grow. He was born Feb. 2, 2012. He was named in an online contest, but somehow his name got misspelled but never corrected before it was officially registered. He has an impressive lineage. His great-grandfather was Unbridled, 1990 Kentucky Derby winner; his grandfather was Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Belmont; and his sire was Pioneerof the Nile, who finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The only place he seems to come up short is his tail, which was nipped off by another horse on the farm where he grew up.
The Zayat family once came close to missing their moment in the spotlight. American Pharoah was originally put up for auction at the Saratoga yearling sales, but when no one bought him, the family had second thoughts and decided to buy him back – a fortunate decision. He has the second-highest earnings of any horse to run in the Belmont Stakes at $3.7 million, topped only by Smarty Jones in 2004. At the Belmont, American Pharoah paid $3.50, $2.80 and $2.50. Frosted, who finished second, paid $3.50 and $2.90, while third-place Keen Ice paid $4.60 to show.
Proving that patience and perseverance can finally pay off, trainer Bob Baffert achieved the Triple Crown on his fourth try, having lost in 1997, 1998 and 2002. Jockey Victor Espinoza made it on his third attempt, losing in 2002 with War Emblem and last year with California Chrome.
American Pharoah made their dreams come true with his flying hoofs and a flourish of his stubby tail.