Leading all the way, American Pharoah barreled down the stretch and on to victory at the 147th Belmont Stakes Saturday, becoming the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown.
The champion 3-year-old horst seized the lead early and held off all comers in the eight-horse field, and sped away to an insurmountable lead as the crowd roared. American Pharoah covered the 1 1/2 mile distance in 2:26.65, besting the field by 5 1/2 lengths.
“Steady, steady, all the way around,” jubilant jockey Victor Espinoza said after the win. “I had the best feeling after when I took the first turn.
“You don’t even feel it when he’s going that fast, it feels like slow motion.”
American Pharoah became the first to win the elusive Triple Crown since Affirmed did it in 1978. He joins the ranks of Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault , Citation, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.
The Belmont Stakes, known as the “Test of the Champion,” is the longest of the three races in the Triple Crown — the Kentucky Derby track is 1 1/4 mile and the Preakness track is 1 3/16 mile.
“I didn’t know how I was going to feel; now I know,” said trainer Bob Baffert as the crowd erupted around him after the win.
The Hall of Fame trainer gave all the credit to American Pharoah. “I feel like I have a very special horse and he’s the one that won. It wasn’t me, it was the horse,” Baffert said.
American Pharoah conquered the race against seven rested horses that had sat out at least one of the Triple Crown races over the past five weeks.
Espinoza said he felt more confident than usual coming into Saturday’s race. “I said, ‘I hope American Pharoah felt like me.’ And he did.” The 43-year-old jockey had two other chances before at the Triple Crown before Saturday’s race.
The sold out race was attended by 90,000 — the fortunate who nabbed tickets in case history was made and now, will forever be able to say they were there. Frosted came in second and Keen Ice came in third.
The Preakness brought American Pharoah’s winning streak to six, and Saturday’s rare achievement made seven. Owner Ahmed Zayat adds $800,000 to his fortune.
Baffert and Espinoza will also be celebrated for decades — but likely not as much as American Pharoah, whose name will forever be associated with an elite group of colts that captured the elusive Triple Crown.