We’re talking Star Wars, we’re talking Grease, we’re talking Jimmy Carter. That was life in America the last time a horse won the Triple Crown.
And then Saturday happened.
American Pharoah didn’t just win the Belmont Stakes; he ran away with it – by five-and-a-half lengths – to become the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in a five-week stretch.
“We’re still running on adrenaline and just still can’t believe it happened,” trainer Bob Baffert said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It was incredible. That horse just keeps showing me things that I was hoping that he had, but what an animal. I’m glad that he came through. I’ll never forget that crowd just erupted. I’ve never been involved in anything like that. It’s just an incredible feeling.”
American Pharoah led the race wire-to-wire, running 1.5 miles in 2:26.65 to end the longest Triple Crown drought in history.
Baffert felt good when American Pharoah took control of the race after the first turn.
“We were hoping for something like that,” he said. “Once he got in his groove and he threw his ears forward, it was almost like he was in command. He likes to dominate and he got out there and he was just cruising.”
That continued throughout the race. American Pharoah sprinted the final quarter-mile in 24.32 seconds, a shade faster than Secretariat in 1973.
“When he turned for home, I could tell by Victor Espinoza, the jockey, he was still (getting ready for the final push),” Baffert said. “I could tell by his body language – he was sitting there – and he hadn’t even turned the horse loose yet. I knew then things were looking good. . . . From then on, I just took in the crowd noise and just watched him come down. What an amazing feeling. And the crowd, for them to see it and witness it – I became a fan. I was just watching him in awe like, ‘Look at this guy.’ Unbelievable.”
American Pharoah’s time was the second best in the Belmont by a Triple Crown winner (trailing only Secretariat) and the sixth fastest ever. The colt became the 12th Triple Crown winner in history – he won the Derby by one length on May 2 and the Preakness by seven lengths two weeks later – and is the fourth Triple Crown winner to go wire-to-wire in the final two legs.
Thirteen horses since 1978 had won the Derby and Preakness only to come short in the Belmont. Three of those horses, including War Emblem and Real Quiet, belonged to Baffert.
American Pharoah was different. He was the people’s horse.
“You know how tough a New Yorker is. It’s a tough crowd,” Baffert said. “I didn’t get one heckler all day – and that’s pretty amazing. I usually get a couple of hecklers. (They) tell me, ‘Not today, Bob’ or something. I think that’s what made it so special. I think everybody went there knowing that he was going to do it. Every year, we’ve seen good horses, but there’s always a couple of horses in there that people know (could upset the favorite). But he’s (special). It hasn’t really sunk in completely yet.”
With the win, American Pharoah achieved Triple Crown immortality with 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).
In an act of class and grace, Baffert and Espinoza announced they will donate their Belmont winnings to charity, including the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), and Old Friends Farm, a thoroughbred retirement facility in Georgetown, Ky.
“A horse like Pharoah, he gets a life of luxury,” Baffert said. “He gets to go to the stallion farm and really enjoy himself for the rest of his life. Some of these other horses, they’re not as privileged. So we just give back. We need to take care of these horses after they retire and leave the track. And these jockeys, it’s tough for them. I was going to do it win, lose or draw. It just makes me feel better. All owners and trainers, I think we have that obligation that we need to take care of the jockeys and the horses because they’re such a big part (of this). They’re the ones that have all the risk.”
They can thank American Pharoah – only the fourth Triple Crown winner of the last 67 years – for these donations.
“I really feel good about our sport,” Baffert said. “This horse really has brought the best in our sport out, and I’m just so happy for him.”