It was a victory 37 years in the making and well worth the wait as American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) completed his Triple Crown sweep with an emphatic 5 1/2-length victory over Frosted (Tapit) in front of thousands of adoring fans in Saturday's GI Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.
Off a half-step slow from stall five as the 3-5 favorite, American Pharoah was able to establish an early and easy advantage with an opening quarter-mile in :24.06 with Materiality (Afleet Alex) close in tow, but--more surprisingly--Frosted and Keen Ice (Curlin) and Mubtaahij (Ire) (Dubawi)--in attendance. Well within the grasp of Victor Espinoza, the Zayat homebred took them into the final mile after four furlongs in :48.83 and covered half the journey in 1:13.41. Still traveling with supreme authority and apparently impatient of Espinoza's restraint, American Pharoah glided into the far turn and imperiously shrugged off Materiality and Keen Ice. Frosted--momentarily caught behind rivals--looked his only threat, but it was short-lived. To the crescendo of the 90,000 strong on hand, American Pharoah cut the corner for home under mostly hand urging and built up an unassailable advantage into the final furlong, coming home with a final quarter in :24.32 to create history on Long Island.
An emotional trainer Bob Baffert, who was saddling an incredible fourth potential Triple Crown winner in Saturday's Belmont, said, 'Down the backside, he was in his groove, and I knew that if he's a great horse, he's going to do it. He's just a great horse. It takes a great horse to do it. I just feel like I have a very special horse, and he's the one that won. It wasn't me, it was the horse.'
After the historic victory, Espinoza paraded the champ the length of the grandstand to a thunderous ovation from the Belmont faithful, who witnessed racing's 12th Triple Crown winner and its first since Affirmed completed the treble in 1978.
'Wow, wow, I only can tell you,' Espinoza said. 'It's just an amazing thing. It's just unbelievable how things work out. It's just an amazing horse like American Pharoah.'
Espinoza, who had twice before come into the Belmont with a chance at riding a Triple Crown winner, admitted the win was just as easy as it looked.
"[I knew we would win] in the first turn,' Espinoza, who missed the Triple Crown when fourth aboard California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) in last year's Belmont, said. 'He broke a little step slowly, but in two jumps I was just right on the lead. That's right where I want to be, a length in front of everybody and just steady, steady all the way around. I tell you, I had the best feeling ever when he crossed the first turn.'
Owner Ahmed Zayat and his son and racing manager Justin Zayat were jubilant in the winner's circle after American Pharoah's historic victory. 'This is surreal,' exclaimed Justin Zayat. Asked to describe the feeling, Ahmed Zayat, a transplanted Egyptian living in New Jersey, said simply, 'Elation. Exuberance. This is all about the horse. I said before he was a good horse, a special horse. Now he goes down as a legend. Greatness has been defined.
Extract From Thoroughbred Daily News