American Pharoah ends Triple Crown drought in style
American Pharoah took the country on a joy ride, writes columnist Bill Dwyre.
ELMONT, N.Y.— A wonderful thoroughbred race horse put America on his back Saturday and took the country for a joy ride.
American Pharoah’s name maybe misspelled, but his mission and his magnificence can never be misstated.
This one was for more than just racing fans, or sports fans. Itwas one of those moments that, if only for a short time, transcends our daily lives. American Pharoah won the Triple Crown. Asentence saying anyone had accomplished the feat hadn’t been typed in 37 years.
Somewhere, the ghosts of Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed were nodding.
American Pharoah joined their elite club by firing out of the gate, despite getting caught leaning a bit backward as it opened, and then going
immediately to the lead and playing catch-me-if-you-can. Obviously, they couldn’t. He faced a field of seven others. There is noway to knowwhat level of class existed in that group. If any of them were truly great, American Pharoah would have been greater. It’s just theway itwas, and has been all season, for the Ahmed Zayat-owned, Bob Bafferttrained, Victor Espinoza-ridden equine superstar.
Espinoza got to the head of the stretch at this massive Belmont track, in this ultrachallenging11⁄ 2- mile test for a 3-year-old, and peaked under his arms. First left, then right.
“Iwas looking for them,” he said. “I was wondering where theywere, if theywere coming.”
Seeing that only Frosted was anywhere within range, Espinoza turned his head to the front and urged American Pharoah with the reins. Poor Frosted. Hewas instantly iced.
Espinoza’s action spoke louder than any words: “OK, big guy. Let’s get this finished.”
Itwas like lighting the fuse on a rocket.
Andit turned the run for home into the ultimate showcase, a perfectly timed massive celebration, directly in front of a massive and loving crowd. Therewas no doubt whowas going to win, or how. Therewas no question that everyone who had cometo see this, a capped crowd of 90,000, were seeing everything for which they had hoped and prayed.
Itwas history, and they were witnesses to it. If they cashed their winning tickets, they ought to be ashamed. Few will. They will remember this one in their heart and put its evidence on a special shelf. Maybe light a candle near it.
Thiswas their modernday Secretariat. American Pharoah won by 51⁄2 lengths, not 31. Didn’t matter. The sport had waited so long, and its fans had hoped so deeply, that just doing it, achieving it, was more than enough. Secretariat’s run downthe Belmont home stretch was awe inspiring. So was American Pharoah’s.
If anybody was not on their feet, they had already passed out. If they weren’t smiling, clapping, waving their arms in the air, they didn’t understand.
Bill Clinton, with his Baffert-like shocking white hair and his light-blue sport coat, understood. At that very moment, as the clock ticked toward 7 p.m. in the $1.5-million Belmont Stakes and a lightning-fast horse streaked toward the finish line, hewas like everybody else. A chilled, goosebumped spectator.
Right there, in the first balcony row near the finish line, an American president was just another American, sharing in his country’s great moment.
Zayat’s son, Justin, who has been particularly emotional during this Triple Crown ride— froma rough May 2Kentucky Derby survival race to a rompin a May 16 Preakness monsoon — said he handled things better this time.
“I just cried,” he said. “I didn’t throwup.”
What had been so impossible for somany years— ever since Steve Cauthen had been squeezed along the rail in1978 and gone to his left hand for some final whipping to get that tiny final edge for the third time against Alydar and also get the last Triple Crown— had now become reality.
Cauthen was here Saturday. He stood in the paddock before the race and said he thought American Pharoah was going to do it. He joked about his lefthanded whipping, a rarity for him.
“I had practiced it a race or so earlier,” Cauthen said. “I had never done it before that.”
And hewas right there in the celebrating crowd afterward, as amazed as the rest howthe field let American Pharoah get away with a 48.83 half-mile. When that relatively pedestrian time flashed on the screen, smart race fans knew the 12th Triple Crown was about to be achieved.
“Nobody went after him,” Cauthen said. “Maybe nobody could.”
And so it came to pass, with a dash downthe homestretch thatwas a victory march at full speed. Itwas the stride of a champion, in the style of a once-in-alifetime superstar.
“I told Victor,” Baffert said afterward, “that Iwas putting him on a Ferrari.”
Astill semi-shocked Baffert, who is never at a loss for words, met the media with his10-year-old son, Bode, on his lap and immediately got his wisecracking stride back.
“If Steph Curry can do it, so can I,” he said.
Hesaid that when he saw his horse head for home, and he knewthat American Pharoah was doing just what he had hoped and prayed for —“bringing it one more time”— he just sat back and watched.
“All I did is take in the crowd,” he said. “Theywere just thundering… and the noise and everything was happening. Thirty-seven years we’ve waited for this… he’s just a great horse.”
Thirty-seven years, indeed.
And when it finally happened, American Pharoah just got it done. No toying with emotions. No doubt. Never look back. Wire to wire.
History often is achieved amid questions. Not this time.
VICTOR ESPINOZA and American Pharoah get to the winner’s circle after the horse becomes the 12th Triple Crown champion with a Belmont Stakes victory. A1
JUSTIN ZAYAT, son of American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat, kisses the Triple Crown trophy.
AMERICAN PHAROAH, under Victor Espinoza, leads the field out of the fourth turn on the way to victory at the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.