American Pharoah Becomes First Triple Crown Winner in 37 Years With Belmont Stakes VictoryEben Novy-Williams
The 37-year Triple Crown drought is over.
American Pharoah outran all seven of his challengers Saturday to make horse racing history at the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes. The 3-year-old colt is the 12th horse, and first since Affirmed in 1978, to win the sport’s most celebrated title.
In front of a sold-out crowd at Belmont Park, American Pharoah took the lead out of the break and finished five-and-a-half lengths ahead of second-place finisher Frosted in 2 minutes, 26.65 seconds. It was just the second wire-to-wire win at the Belmont in the past 30 years.
“Racing fans, everyone who loves horses, this is for you,” owner Ahmed Zayat told the crowd as he held the Belmont trophy. Less than a minute later he was handed the triangular Triple Crown trophy, which hasn’t been presented in 37 years.
The 1 1/2-mile (2.4 kilometers) race is the longest leg of the Triple Crown, which includes the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. It was the longest race of American Pharoah’s career.
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.
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.
Saturday’s race featured a number of Belmont Stakes firsts in connection to American Pharoah. Victor Espinoza was the first jockey to have a third attempt at the Triple Crown at the Elmont, New York, track, and trainer Bob Baffert had his record fourth horse enter the Belmont with a Triple Crown at stake.
Espinoza, 43, also rode California Chrome (4th) in 2014 and War Emblem (8th) in 2002. He’s the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown, according to NBC.
“Third time is a charm,” Espinoza told the crowd.
Starting his fourth race in eight weeks, American Pharoah took the lead immediately out of the break. His lead was less than a length at the halfway point, and he opened a gap on the field in the final turn.
“Down the backside, he was in his groove, and I knew that if he’s a great horse, he’s going to do it,” Baffert said. “He’s just a great horse. It takes a great horse to do it.”
The victory carries a $800,000 prize for Pharoah’s team and triggers an escalator in owner 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 likely start 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.
The word pharaoh was misspelled when chosen for the horse during Zayat Stables’ annual naming contest. The mistake wasn’t corrected when it was submitted to the Jockey Club, making it official.
American Pharoah has now won seven straight races dating back to September of last year.