I’ll be honest, I didn’t think that this would be the year that the curse of the Triple Crown would end.
Sure, American Pharoah had dominated the competition in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2015, but the Belmont Stakes is another animal, if you can forgive the pun.
It had been 37 years since Affirmed, ridden by then 18-year-old Steve Cauthen, won the Triple Crown in 1978. Since then, there were 13 occasions when a horse won the first two races of the Triple Crown, only to falter on the one and a half mile dirt track at Belmont Park in Queens, N.Y.
There was the three-year runs from 1997-1999 and 2002-2004 when the three-year-old thoroughbreds flirted with history. Who can forget Silver Charm in 1997 or Real Quiet in 1998 coming within a hair of winning in Belmont, or War Emblem in 2002, who stumbled out of the gate and finished in eighth place.
All of those chances to achieve glory teased sports fans across the globe.
That was until American Pharoah showed up last Sunday.
Affectionately compared to Michael Jordan due to his ability to leap long distances in the air while in his powerful strides, American Pharoah entered the Belmont Stakes on race day with 3-5 odds, the odds makers so sure of him winning that they effectively made it pointless to bet on him.
Regardless, many people did. Friends of mine bet $1.00 or $2.00 dollars, and aren’t even going to turn in their betting slips. They’re keeping it as souvenirs.
At posting time, as the horses all entered their positions, it seemed like time slowed, even stopping. The air in the park lay still, awaiting the shrill bell signaling the start of the race.
With only seven other horses taking part in the race, jockey Victor Espinoza guided American Pharoah from the fifth post in the middle of the pack to the front on the rail within the first 10 seconds of the race.
American Pharoah led in the first turn and out of the second turn. He stayed ahead through the back stretch and into turn three.
He was still leading heading out of the fourth turn and into the home stretch. And then amazingly, to my disbelief, Espinoza pushed American Pharoah to extend his lead, first one length and then two, then three.
As the other horses tired at the end of the long slog, American Pharoah only got faster, crossing the finish line with a 2:26.65, the sixth-fastest all time and the second-fastest behind Secretariat of all Triple Crown winners.
Where I watched the race, folks who had no rooting interest began cheering, high-fiving, and hugging others. I’m sure this happened across the country and world.
Tears of joy were shed by trainer Bob Baffert and Espinoza, the jockey who won the Belmont Stakes for the first time as well as his first Triple Crown.
It was just so nice to be on a horse like American Pharoah,” Espinoza told National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Jim Director of Media & Industry Relations Jim Mulvihill. “I’m telling you on the first turn, that was the best feeling I ever had.”
He added later, “I just grabbed the reins and he just took off. It’s just an amazing feeling that you have when it’s like 20 yards out of the wire and you’re like three or four lengths in front. It’s unbelievable.”
When American Pharoah won, social media exploded. More than 240,000 tweets were sent on Twitter in a 15-minute span. At one point, more than 46,000 tweets were being sent per minute.
Even though horse racing is such a niche sport across the world, a Triple Crown winner transcends all sports. Baffert agrees.
“I think what the Triple Crown is about, we get to share somebody great, greatness, with everybody,” he said. “Everybody got to see it.”
June 7 was a day where everyone witnessed history. I didn’t think that American Pharoah would win the Triple Crown. But I’m glad he did.