‘Mod­ern-day Sec­re­tariat’

Amer­i­can Pharoah ends Triple Crown drought in style

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BILL DWYRE

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.

Peter Fo­ley Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

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

KathyWil­lens As­so­ci­ated Press

JUSTIN ZAYAT, son of Amer­i­can Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat, kisses the Triple Crown tro­phy.

Elsa Gar­ri­son Getty Im­ages

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.