KANSAS CITY (105.3 The Fan/AP) — American Pharoah led all the way to win the Belmont Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths on Saturday, becoming the first horse since 1978 to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes — one of the sporting world's rarest feats. The bay colt with the unusually short tail easily defeated seven rivals in the grueling 1 1/2-mile race, covering the distance in 2:26.65 — sixth-fastest in Belmont history — to end the longest stretch without a Triple Crown champion in history.
American Pharoah is the 12th horse and first since Affirmed in 1978 to win three races on different tracks at varying distances over a five-week span. He won the Derby by one length on May 2 and then romped to a seven-length victory in the rainy Preakness two weeks later before demolishing his rivals Saturday.
Baffert and Espinoza ended their own frustrating histories in the Triple Crown. Baffert finally won on his record fourth Triple try, having lost in 1997, 1998 (by a nose) and in 2002. Espinoza got it done with his record third shot after failing to win in 2002 and last year on California Chrome.
Jockey Victor Espinoza hustled American Pharoah to the lead leaving the No. 5 post and quickly got him over to the rail. Materiality was on his outside in second, but never applied any serious pressure traveling along the backstretch before falling away on the second turn.
American Pharoah started kicking away heading into the final turn. He opened up on the field as he powered through the 1,097-yard stretch, displaying his fluid, springloaded stride in which he appears to float over the ground, "It's just an amazing feeling that you have when you're 20 yards from the wire," Espinoza said. "And then at the wire I was like, 'I cannot believe I did it.'"
American Pharoah ran the final quarter-mile — a stretch that has dashed numerous Triple Crown dreams — in 24.32 seconds, faster than Secretariat's time of 25 seconds in winning the 1973 Belmont.
American Pharoah joined the exclusive club of Triple Crown winners Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed.
A sign with American Pharoah's name and silks was quickly put up in the infield next to the 11 other Triple Crown winners.
The crowd of 90,000 — capped to avoid overcrowding and long lines from last year's total of 102,199 — roared as American Pharoah turned for home.
It's unlikely the champion heard them since American Pharoah wears ear plugs to block noise that might get him worked up.
Since 1978, the rigors of the Triple Crown had done in 13 other horses who won the Derby and the Preakness — with 12 losing the third leg and I'll Have Another scratched with a leg injury in 2012. Their failures left the sport and its fans craving a worthy successor to the 11 previous champions.
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