American Pharoah Wins First Triple Crown In 37 Years

A thirty-seven year long drought is over.

American Pharoah

For thirty-seven years, the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in the United States has been a goal that horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners have failed to achieve, but that drought ended today when American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes:

American Pharoah, the flashy colt with the smooth stride, won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, becoming the first Triple Crown winner in a generation and etching himself in the history books.

Since 1978, when Affirmed swept the three races, 13 horses had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. But none of them won the Belmont.

On Saturday, American Pharoah broke that 37-year jinx. He now enters the pantheon as the 12th Triple Crown winner, joining 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 (1978).

American Pharoah broke from the No. 5 gate, went right to the lead and led the whole way, pulling away in the stretch for the victory. He finished the mile and a half in 2:26.65. Frosted was second, five and a half lengths back, and Keen Ice third.

American Pharoah paid $3.50 for a $2 bet as the favorite.

“The way he hit the ground, you couldn’t even feel how fast he was moving,” jockey Victor Espinoza told NBC.

“I’m very emotional,” said the trainer Bob Baffert. “I’m thinking about my parents. I wish they were alive to see this.”

“New Yorkers, all racing fans, this is for you,” said owner Ahmed Zayat as he hoisted the Belmont trophy.

The field of eight on Saturday was the smallest since 2007, when the filly Rags to Riches prevailed in a seven-horse field. But American Pharoah did defeat 31 challengers in his Triple Crown sweep, second only to War Admiral, who outran 32 in 1937.

Baffert, 62, secured his second Belmont victory; when he won in 2001 with Point Given, Bill and Hillary Clinton joined him in the winner’s circle. (Bill Clinton was on hand again Saturday.) American Pharoah was able to give him what his three previous Derby and Preakness winners — Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) — could not.

“I just know, we’re up against it, but we’re hoping it happens, but I really don’t try to think, because the letdown, I know what it’s like,” Baffert said last week. “Those other races, we were right there, it was so close, they ran their races, they just got beat. It all ends, the phone quits ringing, it all ends. It’s like life ends. So we’re just going to enjoy it and keep the horse happy and healthy. That’s all we can do.”

Espinoza, 43, secured his first Belmont victory, having come up short with the Derby and Preakness winners War Emblem and California Chrome.

American Pharoah was among the most-buzzed-about horses on the Triple Crown trail after securing the title of top 2-year-old male last year. Under blue skies and before a record crowd of 170,513 at the Kentucky Derby on May 2, he charged past Firing Line and stablemate Dortmund to begin his quest. He completed the mile and a quarter in a pedestrian 2:03.02.

As a record Preakness crowd of 131,680 braved a torrential downpour just as the starting gate was being loaded on May 16, American Pharoah stayed focused on the task at hand. He skipped over the sloppy racetrack and left everyone in his wake, winning by seven lengths. He completed the mile and three-sixteenths in a slow 1:58.46.

Horse racing is obviously not usually one of the most popular sports, but the month that starts on the first Saturday of May and ends on the first Saturday of June has always been one that people keep paying attention to. This has been especially true during the many times that a horse has won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and made a bid to win the Belmont Stakes, something that has happened 23 times since the Triple Crown was established and 13 times in the 37 years since Affirmed won the title in 1978. The longer the drought went on, it seemed that the interest in the title increased every Spring. Whether that will continue now that the streak has been broken only time will tell, but in any case, congratulations are in order to jockey Victor Espinoza, the trainers, the owner and, of course most of all to American Pharoah who did the real work here.

On a side note, the last time a horse won the Triple Crown, Jimmy Carter was President, the Shah of Iran was still in power, the Soviet Union still existed and it still had not invaded Afghanistan, Grease had not been released in theaters yet since that didn’t happen until June 16th of that year, and there had only been one Star Wars move in which Han shot first. Of course, it’s been longer in the United Kingdom, where there hasn’t been a Triple Crown Winner since 1970, and in Ireland, where there hasn’t been a winner since 1942.

And in case you’re wondering “American Pharoah” is what the horse was named. It’s a misspelling, it should be “American Pharaoh,” but it stuck.

Anyway, it was nice to end the week with some good news.

Here’s the video of the race:

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Sports
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Paludicola says:

    Well, he had to heal the wound to his pride from losing the spelling bee somehow.

  2. Rob Prather says:

    Yep, and that spelling error will go down in history.

  3. James Joyner says:

    What’s interesting to me is that, because I came of age in the 1970s, I thought winning a Triple Crown was a normal thing as a kid. Secretariat, widely considered the best of the Triple Crown winners, won when I was 7 and then two other horses won it over the next five years. Now I’m deep into middle age and we’ve just now had another winner.

  4. edmondo says:

    Oh wow, that’s sort of almost interesting.

  5. Hal_10000 says:

    How appropriate for our internet age that the Triple Crown winner has a misspelling in his name.

  6. American Pharoah Wins First Triple Crown In 37 Years

    And is rewarded with a lifetime of all the sex he can handle.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Who here has ever eaten horse? (Raises hand.)

  8. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: Me too, the last time I was in Germany. My wife did, too, although it was hard for her, she really loves horses.

    Turns out she loves how they taste almost as much…

  9. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We’re very fussy about animal flesh. Either it’s totally normal to eat a certain animal or totally taboo. How we socialize food rules about animal flesh within a society is weirdly effective.

    And I’m not talking Leviticus – most of the cultural Jews I’ve shared meals with have a strange fixation on bacon and lobster – the culinary love that dare not speak it’s name.

    We eat cows and not horses. Pigs and not dogs. Chickens and not cats. That’s the American way of eating. (Other cultures have different rules.)

    And the taboo is not really a moral taboo, but an aesthetic one – Andrew Zimmern can eat all the obscure stuff in the world on his TV show and we don’t judge him him as morally defective, but adventurous. The difference between exotic and normal is cultural.

    (BTW, how did this discussion end up here when the OP was about a horse race?)

  10. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: You’re right, it seemed a lot easier back then. I remember quite well what a huge deal Affirmed was, and what a star his jockey Steve Cauthen became.

    My 11-year-old watched today’s race with us and was thrilled to see a Triple Crown winner. I had to tell him the last time it happened I was less than a year older than he is. I hope he doesn’t have to wait until he’s 49 to see another.

    I was about 99% certain American Pharoah would win today after watching him run the Preakness. Leading from the beginning while running in the slop and pulling away even as he crossed the finish…it takes a very special horse to do that. Espinoza said he came in today with more confidence than he’s ever had, and we all saw why.

  11. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    Oh! Oh! Oh! (Raises hand – not in the “I’ve eaten horse meat” way, but in the Horschak “I have a theory” way.)

    Horses are more emotionally expressive than cows. Dogs are more emotionally expressive than pigs. Cats are more emotionally expressive than chickens.

    Thesis: Americans prefer to eat the flesh of emotionally obscure animals over emotionally expressive animals.

  12. Lit3Bolt says:

    Who’s had Kumis? *raises hand*

    It’s like liquid sour cream, with a tang from the alcohol in it.

    (Full disclosure: Went to Mongolia on a cultural exchange trip in the 90’s.)

  13. de stijl says:

    The time of horseracing has come and gone. Boxing is on the same path. Baseball is on the same trajectory but it won’t fall that far.

    Those three were part of the top-tier sports when I was a kid. Now, horeseracing is third-tier at best, boxing is literally dying before our eyes, and baseball, ten years from now will have a smidge more cultural import than hockey.

    Now, the NFL and Big 5 college football are the first tier. The World Series, March Madness NCAA BB tournament and the NBA finals are the second tier (not including the regular seasons of those sports), MLB and regular season NBA and NCAA BB is third tier along with NHL playoffs, MMA is in this tier but trending up. Everything else is lucky to get a three minute segment on Sports Center during their major event.

    American Pharoah did this cool thing that hasn’t happened for 37 years, also the Twins beat the White Sox in extra innings, and Tiger Woods shot a career worst 85 at the Memorial – some English guy whose name you barely recognize is in the lead. We’ll be back in two minutes.

  14. de stijl says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    What did you miss most when you were in Mongolia?

  15. DrDaveT says:

    @de stijl:

    most of the cultural Jews I’ve shared meals with have a strange fixation on bacon and lobster

    Conversely, several lapsed Jews I know have no problem at all eating bacon or lobster — but still can’t eat a cheeseburger, or any other meat/dairy combination. It just feels wrong to them.

  16. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:
    I’m on vacation back in the Netherlands now and saw horse sausage at the market yesterday.

  17. de stijl says:

    Mostly, the cravings that I have for food when I’ve been out of country for awhile have been pedestrian and stereotypical. A mushroom, onion and pepperoni pizza. A proper hamburger / cheeseburger.

    The oddest things where when I craved things I don’t even eat all that often after a Reykjavik stay; a pattymelt, a blue-plate special roast beef on white toast with mashed potatoes and gravy. Diner food. Breakfast steak slathered in A1 with scrambled eggs hash browns and toast with the crappy jelly in the little single-serve container. I was like that fat guy in Diner who ate the whole left side of the menu.

    A roll your own Bugler cigarette after.

    Ugly American stuff. Total cliche. But the stomach wants what the stomach wants.

  18. Stonetools says:

    Also too, Serena Williams won the French Open , her 20th Grand Slam title. She gave her acceptance speech in French. She has come a long way from Compton.

    One of the great athletes of our time. One day we will recognize how great she is- probably a year from now when she wins No. 23 and passes Steffi Graf to become the leader in Grand Slam wins in the modern world.

  19. John Burgess says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Mostly with machines, though…

  20. BIll says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    And is rewarded with a lifetime of all the sex he can handle.

    While growing up, my Father was part owner of a racehorse Fast Clip who finished 2nd in the 1972 Little Brown Jug. The Jug for Pacing standardbreds is the equivalent of the Kentucky Derby.

    After Clip was retired to stud in Canada. My father commented sometime in the late 70’s that Fast Clip may have been the most prolific sire in Canada. One year he supposedly got 115 or so of the 120 mares bred to him into foal.

    Fast Clip was sired by a Horse named Good Time.

  21. @John Burgess:

    Mostly with machines, though…

    Nope, the Jockey Club doesn’t allow thoroughbreds to be registered unless they were conceived via live cover:

    http://www.registry.jockeyclub.com/registry.cfm?Page=tjcRuleBook#one

  22. @de stijl:

    My rule is that I don’t eat animals that have a name.

  23. Rodney Dill says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Which is why my Dad, a farmer, said, “Never give a cow a name.”

  24. bookdragon says:

    @BIll: Little Brown Jug – that brings back memories! We lived just half a mile down the road from the fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio back when I was in HS.

    I worked at the fair after school during the Jug and remember watching the Pacer races. A truly unique sort of racing.

    (However, as the proud owner of retired racing greyhounds, I have to say they make horses – even American Pharoah – look slow).

  25. Jeremy says:

    @de stijl: How did the left side of the menu taste? Was it all plasticky?