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00000176-770f-dc2f-ad76-7f0fad990000Monday at 5:44 pmEmail Sports at Large

Sports At Large: A Big Ol' Triple Crown Jump for Joy

With the possible exception of the moment when the people at Coke went back to the original formula, few things have been as universally celebrated in this country than American Pharoah’s win in the Belmont Saturday.

People around the country flooded social media to salute the bay colt with a short tail and why not? Under trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah sailed to a dazzling win Saturday on the way to the first Triple Crown victory in 37 years. Think about it: A generation of Americans had been born without seeing a horse win the Kentucky Derby, Baltimore’s Preakness and the Belmont in the same year.

The angst and anticipation were palpable, especially since 13 horses had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and failed to succeed Affirmed, who won in 1978.

Just last year, California Chrome was stepped on by another horse leaving the starting gate, suffering injuries to his heel and tendon and finishing in a photo finish for fourth. Before Saturday, there was rampant speculation that we might never see another Triple Crown winner for a variety of reasons.

The Belmont is a grueling mile and a half race, a quarter-mile longer than the Derby and 5/16 of a mile longer than at Pimlico and comes at the end of a five-week gauntlet that spans three cities. A horse that wins the first two races might often find himself being challenged by fresh horses that have run neither in Louisville nor in Baltimore.

Finally, horses are bred differently now than in the past and can yield more in breeding fees than they can make on the track. An owner might choose to recoup and add to his investment by putting the horse out to stud than racing him. 

But Ahmed Zayat, the son of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s doctor, gambled that American Pharoah could break through, and he did to the delight of millions. All this joy leads to the inevitable question: What’s next for American Pharoah in particular and horse racing in general? The answer for the horse is an easy one. American Pharoah’s place in history is likely to be legendary. He not only won the Belmont by 5 ½ lengths over second place finisher Frosted, but his time of 2:26.65 was second among Triple Crown winners all-time behind the 2:24 of Secretariat, widely considered the greatest horse of all time.

American Pharoah might race a couple more times this year, then retire to some farm in Kentucky to enjoy being admired by tour groups, eating grass and oats and creating perhaps the next Triple Crown winner. And it might take another Triple Crown champion to sustain this boomlet of interest in horse racing.

The sport, once on the short list of games that compelled the American public, has fallen on hard times in recent years. The reasons are simple. The winning athlete doesn’t talk, not unless he’s Mr. Ed. And his shelf life is usually the five weeks from the Derby to the Belmont, hardly enough to forge a bond with the public. But even those five weeks are longer than what new Coke got and for that, the American populace is grateful.

American Pharoah at the start of the race at Belmont American Pharoah at the start of the race at Belmont on June 6, 2015
Credit Diana Robinson via flickr

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