With history on the line, American Pharoah crossed the line into history as the 12th winner of the American Triple Crown with a dominant victory in the Belmont Stakes Saturday at Belmont Park.
Cheered on from the start by a crowd of over 90,000, the crowd limited only by the demand for a ticket to history, the 3-year-old Pioneer of the Nile colt stormed across the finish line at "Big Sandy" in 2:26.65, defeating Frosted and Keen Ice in the first gate-to-wire Belmont victory since Da Tara's win in 2008.
By winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought in Triple Crown winners, dry since Affirmed completed the task in 1978. To put the win in perspective, nearly half of the population of the U.S. was not born when Affirmed captured the last Triple Crown.
For winning trainer Bob Baffert, it also eclipsed three previous failed tries at a Triple Crown victory: Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002. "I'm very emotional today," said a confident looking, but visibly shaken Baffert. "I'm thinking of my parents and wishing they were here. I know they are here."
As for his big horse with the tail partly bitten off by a stablemate in a bit of barnyard fun, Baffert could only say, "I knew he would do it. He's a great horse. You have to have the horse."
The victory also eclipsed jockey Victor Espinoza's two previous failed attempts at a Triple Crown, most recently last year on California Chrome. At 43, he became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. It was also his first win at Belmont Park.
"It's just unbelievable how things work out," Espinoza said, referring to his previous Triple Crown disappointment, "I knew I had it won in the first turn."
A placard bearing the winner's misspelled name, the result of an error in an online naming contest, was placed in the Belmont infield alongside one of each of the 11 previous winners immediately after the race's end.
"On behalf of all racing fans and all New Yorkers, this is all for you!" exclaimed winning owner Ahmed Zayat in accepting the Belmont and Triple Crown trophies.
With his win in the Belmont, American Pharoah joins the most exclusive fraternity in sports, the very short list of American horse racing's Triple Crown winners: Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed.