After weeks and weeks of waiting, the big day finally arrived — Saturday afternoon was the running of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of horse racing's vaunted Triple Crown. And the highest honor in racing was still very much in play, with American Pharoah having already secured first place in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. So, the final, dramatic result: American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, leading the historic Belmont Stakes wire-to-wire for an epic victory.
Since 1919, 11 horses have won the Triple Crown, although that name wasn't commonly applied to the feat until sometime in the 1920s to 1930s. The last time a horse won the Triple Crown was all the way back in 1979 — "Affirmed" was his name, which was fitting — and he was the third horse to do in the in '70s, along with Citation and the legendary Secretariat.
After that, however, the world of horse racing entered a dizzying Triple Crown drought — no horse has been able to do it since, a 36-year run of futility. That is, until Saturday afternoon, when American Pharoah broke the streak and achieved racing immortality. So, go ahead and welcome number 12 to the club!
This was the third time in the last four years that a Triple Crown contender was running in the Belmont Stakes, and in the other instances, it ended in heartbreak — California Chrome came up short last year, a horse jockeyed by the same man who rode American Pharoah to victory in 2015, Victor Espinoza. Espinoza also had a Triple Crown near-miss in 2002, when he was the jockey of War Emblem.
But this time around, the dominant favorite wasn't to be denied. This is the first Triple Crown win for high-profile horse trainer Bob Baffert, who was clearly emotional following the victory, telling an NBC interviewer that he wished his parents could've been alive to see the occasion.
As far as sports achievements go, this one really can't be overstated — it's rare that you have to wait 37 years to see a feat of athleticism duplicated, and by virtue of the fact that Triple Crown horses have to win three hyper-competitive races in a row, while other Belmont opponents may have been held out of earlier races to better rest them for the occasion, it's definitely one of the stiffest challenges you'll find.
So, hat's off to American Pharoah! If he were a person, an Olympic-level athlete, say, I'd encourage him to relax and let himself go a little, maybe celebrate with a milkshake and a pizza. I don't really know what the horse equivalent of that kind of indulgence would, but here's hoping there's finally some rest in his future, at the very least.
Images: NBC Sports (2)