Belmont Stakes: No triple crown this year, but American Pharoah’s drought sweep still warms hearts

This year’s Belmont Stakes will be a big race in which the main focus will be whether Rich Strike can validate his upset victory in the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the “Test of the Champion”.

It’s the first time since Gato Del Sol in 1983 that the Kentucky Derby winner has given up a Triple Crown bid by skipping the Preakness and training up to the Belmont Stakes. Rich Strike’s owners’ decision to refresh the horse was prudent, but they also removed the Belmont Stakes spice that only a Triple Crown offering can provide.

This spice whets the appetite of any horse racing fan and captures the attention of the whole country. Since 1997, 11 horses have entered the Belmont Stakes with a chance to make a historic Triple Crown sweep, increasing in-person attendance at Belmont Park, national television ratings and buzz around the sport.

The famous Triple Crown drought from 1978 to 2014 came to a head in 2015, when Some 90,000 fans flocked to Belmont Park to see if American Pharoah could complete a classic three-race sweep for the first time since Affirmed in 1978.

There was much doubt as to whether a modern horse, in an age when the best Thoroughbreds often raced once a month, could accomplish the feat of winning three Grade 1 races, at three different distances, in just five weeks.

After all, racing fans had been there many times before over the past 37 years, witnessing Triple Crown offers from horses like Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Smarty Jones turned down – often heartbreakingly at the time. recent years. the strides of the wire.

The Triple Crown is not meant to be won every year. Regardless of the race split, it takes a horse of unique ability, stamina and, yes, luck to accomplish the special feat of sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

Entering the Belmont Stakes on June 6, 2015, American Pharoah was already a very good horse; the only question was whether he was special.

Trained by Bob Baffert (before he became a pariah for alleged horse doping) and ridden by Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah defeated two talented champs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, having won 6 of 7 lifetime starts . Obviously, he established himself as the best of his generation.

Seven challengers would enter the Belmont Stakes starting gate with American Pharoah. His main competitor seemed to be Frosted, the fourth runner in the Kentucky Derby and winner of the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct that year.

The crowd roared as the gates opened and the field at Belmont Stakes set off on its 1 ½ Mile journey around ‘Big Sandy’. Standing from the second floor of the grandstand, track announcer Larry Collmus could be heard mentioning that American Pharoah didn’t get off to a good start – sending a brief reminder of War Emblem’s failed Triple Crown in 2002, in which the promising colt nearly fell to his knees when the gates opened, undermining his chances.

None of those misfortunes befell American Pharoah, who was guided to the lead by Espinoza heading into the clubhouse corner. That position wouldn’t change as American Pharoah led the field on that half-mile back stretch of Belmont Park.

American Pharoah led at a modest pace, covering the first half of the race (¾ mile) in 1:13 2/5. He was four seconds behind Secretariat’s pace in that incredible 31-length victory in 1973, but on that day American Pharoah didn’t need to move “like a formidable machine”.

Racing around the far corner, American Pharoah continued to control the pace and held increasing command of the peloton. Two of his closest challengers, Materiality and Keen Ice (which would later spawn Rich Strike) began to fade. Mubtaahij started to move, but American Pharoah cleared him three furlongs from the wire.

And then there was Frosted, running in the middle of the bag for much of his run, finding his best stride near the quarter pole, preparing for an extended workout. Standing from the second floor grandstand, it appeared Frosted would be the only one who could catch American Pharoah heading home.

The crowd of 90,000 also began to pick up their best pace, and the roar grew as the peloton raced inside the final quarter mile. The American pharaoh began his “race to glory”, as Collmus described it. Frosted was running hard – could he catch him?

But then, just as American Pharoah passed the eighth post, a realization began to dawn above the crowd, in the form of a full-throated roar that grew louder with each stride. American Pharoah wasn’t backing down, he found another gear as he rushed to the finish line; Frosted wasn’t keeping up; no other threat was in sight.

It was finally going to happen.

Espinoza rose triumphantly into the saddle beyond the wire, hearing the incredible roar of the Belmont crowd as American Pharoah galloped around the clubhouse as the 12th Triple Crown winner in racing history, and the first horse in 37 years to pass the sweep.

The ghosts of past Triple Crown failures have been erased. Racing finally secured its first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. For us long-time racing fans, it was something we never thought we’d see – a dream come true before our very eyes and a memory to relive in the years when dreams of the Triple Crown are dashed.

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