PHAROAH PROVES HE REALLY IS ROYALTY
For those who didn’t already know, the Belmont Stakes showed all there is a new king in the sports world.
Thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown has long been thought of as just a dangling carrot. Mired in the longest drought since Sir Barton first won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes back in 1919, the search for another three-year old “super” horse had been in a 37-year slump. Changing times, new ways of thinking, and increased competition had made the run seem impossible. Since 1978, greats like Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Risen Star, Silver Charm, Point Given, Smarty Jones, and Big Brown could not win all three. Just last year, California Chrome was derailed as he failed to fire in the stretch. But then the gates for the 147th Belmont Stakes opened and American Pharoah put all the rhetoric to rest.
Yes, the odds were stacked against the Bob Baffert trained colt going into the third leg of the Triple Crown, but this horse was different. Since losing the first race of his career at two, Pharoah had not tasted defeat. Six wins at five different tracks had proven time and again just how good he was. Dispatching a variety of opponents, this Kentucky-bred had always shown the common denominator his conditioner loves. Speed always allowed American Pharoah the ability to dictate his races. But wait a New York minute. This was the mile and a half “Test of a Champion and none of his seven opponents had been in both the Derby and the Preakness. Could he carry the distance on a dry Big Sandy surface?
“We knew we had the horse coming in, we just hoped he had the horse when the race started,” says Baffert of jockey Victor Espinoza. “While I was in New York I was listening to all the news stations and everybody was saying it never happens, but I know this is a special horse. He is just a joy to be around.”
When the gates opened and eight three-year old Thoroughbreds broke, this son of Pioneerof the Nile immediately bolted to the lead. In typical Pharoah fashion, he took command early and let everybody else watch his shortened tail into the first turn. Easily moving down the backstretch he cruised through brilliant fractions under Espinoza. Acting as the ruler of the race Pharoah turned in an opening quarter of 24.06 and the half mile in 48.88 while leading the field. Moving into the far turn with ease, he repelled all revolts from his followers and kicked clear down the stretch. With more than enough fuel in the tank, American Pharoah won by a widening 5 ½ lengths over second place Frosted in a time of 2:26.65. The final numbers tell us not only was he the second fastest Triple Crown winner at the Belmont (Secretariat 2:24), but his stamina was stout as the final quarter mile was only 26 hundredths of a second off his opening quarter mile.
“When I saddled him in the Paddock I told Victor to ride him with confidence and he did,” says Baffert. “I said put him on the lead and just go for it. If he doesn’t make don’t worry about it.”
As American Pharoah playfully nipped at his lead pony while in the post parade it was clear he was relaxed and knew he was the best. Now that the Belmont Stakes is over, everybody else knows that too.