The 37-year Triple Crown drought is over.
American Pharoah outran all seven of his challengers Saturday over the entire length of the 1 1/2-mile (2.4 kilometers) Belmont Stakes course. He became the 12th horse, and first since Affirmed in 1978, to win horse racing’s most celebrated title.
“All I did was take in the crowd,” trainer Bob Baffert said about the horse’s stretch run in front of 90,000 fans. “And it was thundering.”
The attention given to the Triple Crown might have far-reaching business implications for the sport. That includes higher stud fees for American Pharoah and his sire, as well as attendance at his future races and a boost in enthusiasm for a sport whose place in the American sports landscape has changed dramatically since Affirmed raced the Belmont 37 years ago.
“I’m hoping it brings a lot of young fans to the game and a lot of new owners,” Justin Zayat, son of owner Ahmed Zayat and 2015 graduate of New York University, told reporters after the race. “And that every time I come out to the track it’s as packed as it was today.”
The victory carries a $800,000 prize for Pharoah’s team and triggers an escalator in Ahmed Zayat’s agreement to sell the horse’s stud rights to Kentucky’s Coolmore Ashford Stud. While terms of that sale weren’t disclosed, horse racing analyst and Thoroughbred Daily News columnist Bill Oppenheim said in an e-mail that the rights would be worth roughly $30 million if American Pharoah won the Triple Crown.
A horse’s racing performance doesn’t directly correlate to success at stud. American Pharoah’s fee, paid per live foal, will probably start at around $100,000, said Oppenheim, cofounder of the newsletter Racing Update. By comparison, the most expensive stud in the U.S., Tapit, started at $15,000 and his fee is now $300,000 because of the success of his offspring.
In front of a sold-out crowd at Belmont Park on Saturday, American Pharoah took the lead out of the gate and finished five-and-a-half lengths ahead of second-place finisher Frosted in 2 minutes, 26.65 seconds. It was the longest race of American Pharoah’s career, and just the second wire-to-wire win at the Belmont in the past 30 years.
Afterward, American Pharoah’s team members all said the horse’s performance in the days leading up to the race made them confident he would win. Baffert said that when he saddled the horse on Saturday, he pulled jockey Victor Espinoza aside.
“I told him, ‘Dude, he is ready. Ride him with confidence,’’ Baffert said.
Zayat compared the horse to a Ferrari.
‘‘I looked at my wife in the post parade and told her, ’Get ready to be the owner of the 12th Triple Crown winner,’” Zayat said. “He looked unbelievable. Focused, relaxed, full of energy.”
A $2 bet on American Pharoah paid $3.50 to win, $2.80 for second, and $2.50 for third. Frosted paid $3.50 and $2.90. Keen Ice, who finished third, paid $4.60. The total wagered on the race was $19.9 million, with $9.4 million on American Pharoah.
A son of 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, American Pharoah was the favorite in all three Triple Crown races. He won the Derby by a length from post 18, and two weeks later won the rain-soaked Preakness by seven lengths.
In 1978, Affirmed was the third Triple Crown winner in six years, joining Seattle Slew (1977) and Secretariat (1973).
The next 13 horses that won the Derby and Preakness all failed to win the Belmont. That raised questions about whether the timing of the races -- all three are held in a five-week span -- and the trend of some horses training specifically for the Belmont meant the Triple Crown would never happen again.
Espinoza, 43, also rode California Chrome (4th) in 2014 and War Emblem (8th) in 2002. He’s the only jockey to have three shots at the Triple Crown and the oldest jockey to win it, according to NBC.
American Pharoah has now won seven straight races dating back to September of last year.