For 37 years those of us who are lovers of horses , everything equine, and the Triple Crown—our dreams have finally come true.
Yesterday, June 6, 2015, history was made in the world of horse racing.
After so many heartbreaks, setbacks, and dashed hopes, one horse broke the long spell that has cast a pall over the most prestigious of horse races in America- the Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
One horse who became a champion of champions.
One horse who won the Run for the Roses, the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans, and the Test of the Champion.
That horse is American Pharoah.
Thoroughbred racing finally has a horse worthy of the Triple Crown. American Pharoah raced into history at the running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday evening June 6, 2015 to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed 1978. With jockey Victor Espinoza riding AP, the Bob Baffert-trained favourite swept all three of the Triple Crown races after previously winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
There are now in this most elite club, 12 horses who have swept all three legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
As of 2015 those horses are the following: 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), Affirmed (1978), and American Pharoah (2015).
Charging out of the stalls, and in the No. 5 position, he never let up, putting speed and distance between himself and all the other horses on the field.
A most joyous and heartfelt congratulation to American Pharoah, winner of the 2015 Triple Crown.
So many contenders have attempted this feat in the dearth that occurred since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978.
Now, we have another champion who joins the ranks of an exclusive and unique club.
Well done, American Pharoah.
Affirmed’s Owner and Jockey Share in a Celebration, 37 Years After Their Own
The last thoroughbred to do it had been Wolfson’s gem of a horse, Affirmed, in 1978.
As American Pharoah opened up an insurmountable lead in the Belmont Stakes, celebrations erupted everywhere.
“I was so happy,” Wolfson said before pausing midsentence to glance over as security, seeming to appear from out of nowhere, cleared a path for Bill Clinton to leave the box.
After Clinton left and relative calm was restored, Wolfson completed her thought about the history that had just unfolded. “The fans got what they wanted; we’ve all waited 37 years for this,” she said. “I never thought it would take so long.”
When Wolfson left the track in 1978, she never imagined that not until three-plus decades and five presidents later would she see another Triple Crown.
I asked Wolfson how long it had taken for the reality of winning a Triple Crown to settle in. She smiled. “It hasn’t to this day,” she said. “It was such a feat, such an achievement.”
I asked how she would like to see American Pharoah’s owners use the horse’s newfound status. “I would hope he would run as a 4-year-old,” she said. “Let’s hope.”
(Asked about the horse’s future, the owner Ahmed Zayat said, “He will probably retire at the end of this year.”)
As Wolfson walked into the trustees’ room, she went over to the table where the former jockey Steve Cauthen was seated.
Cauthen, obviously, has paid close attention to the army of talented Triple Crown hopefuls who have come to Belmont with aspirations of making history only to fall short.
“They faded for whatever reasons,” he said. “Big Brown had an off day; I’ll Have Another didn’t make it to the race; a couple of them just got caught in the last furlong because they ran out of stamina.”
American Pharoah never wavered, never faltered.
Cauthen said he had listened carefully to how the veteran trainer Bob Baffert spoke about American Pharoah. From those comments, Cauthen felt that Baffert, who has had his share of heartbreak at Belmont, sensed he had a horse who had the key to the Triple Crown lock.
“He’s had a lot of great horses, but he talked about this one like he’s in a different league than even the other great horses he’s had,” Cauthen said. “You could just tell that he held this horse in a higher esteem.”
I’m always intrigued by the reactions of great athletes who see their accomplishments and long-held records challenged, matched or broken. When Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record, Aaron was gracious, noting that records were made to be broken. This season, Alex Rodriguez passed Willie Mays on the home run list and recently passed Bonds on the career list for runs batted in.
I asked Cauthen how he felt about watching the winning jockey, Victor Espinoza, move into the historic station Cauthen had occupied for 37 years.
“It’s been a great ride,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it to last this long. All that it did was prove how tough it is to do.”
Cauthen said he had never rooted against a horse going for a Triple Crown. “But I wanted a good horse to do it, and today that happened,” he said.
After years of going to Belmont, anticipating a Triple Crown winner only to leave without seeing history made, I wondered how I’d react if the feat were achieved on my watch. Or if it would ever be.
We all found out shortly after 6:50 p.m. Saturday when a 3-year-old colt, a 43-year-old jockey and a 62-year-old trainer raced into history. In the process, they offered the strongest argument yet against changing the Triple Crown format.
Some reporters discreetly applauded, some slapped high-fives, and one or two even cried as they wrote their stories.
I had become convinced that the Triple Crown, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, was something we would never see again.
Those elusive milestones remain the lure of sports. For all of the darkness — the back-room corruption, the misconduct, the entitlement — moments like these are what we dream of but can never predict.
After Cauthen won in 1978, he looked back on the relatively short intervals between Triple Crown victories and thought the feat might have become too easy.
Wolfson walked away from the Belmont in 1978 with no idea that she would be the reigning Triple Crown-winning owner for the next 37 years.
On Saturday, I asked Wolfson how she felt about being replaced, or at the very least joined, in history by Zayat.
Wolfson smiled and reminded me that Affirmed’s place in history was etched in stone.
“He’s still the 11th winner of the Triple Crown,” she said. “It’s just another person being added to the club, and it’s an exclusive club.”