American Pharoah dashed to victory in the Belmont Stakes to clinch the Triple Crown before a sellout crowd Saturday, ending a decades-long drought of horses to accomplish one of sports' rarest feats.
American Pharoah led all the way to win by 5½ lengths, becoming the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
The bay colt with the unusually short tail defeated seven rivals in the grueling 1 1/2-mile race, covering the distance in 2:26.65 to end the longest stretch without a Triple Crown champion in history.
"It’s unbelievable thing, how things work out with an amazing horse like American Pharoah," the colt's elated jockey Victor Espinoza said after the race. "I was coming into this race so confident the last two times. I hope American Pharoah feels like me!"
In partnership with NBC Sports Philadelphia
Espinoza said he had been worried briefly by American Pharoah's shaky start, "but in two jumps I was right in the lead, and that's where I want to be right in front of everyone, steady, steady," he said. "I had the best feeling ever when he made the first turn."
The victory offered Espinoza and trainer Bob Baffert the glory they'd long sought with other past Triple Crown contenders who'd fallen short. Baffert had come up short three times before; Espinoza had just missed out in 2002 and last year on California Chrome.
Hall of Famer Baffert said he was "very emotional."
"I’m thinking about my parents. I wish they were alive to see this. I was hoping it was going to happen. I didn’t know how I was going to feel, and now I know," he said.
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.
At Belmont on Saturday, Frosted finished second and Keen Ice was third.
American Pharoah delivered a victory for Egyptian-born owner Ahmed Zayat, who bred the colt and put him up for sale before buying him back for $300,000. His name came courtesy of the family's online contest, in which a woman from Missouri submitted the winning moniker, but the misspelling wasn't noticed until the name was already official
American Pharoah joined the ranks 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.
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 in front.
As he neared the finish line, drinks were tossed in the air and fans jumped up and down in celebration, many holding their camera phones aloft to capture history on a sunny, 75-degree day at Belmont Park. It's unlikely the champion heard them since American Pharoah wears ear plugs to block noise that might get him worked up.
American Pharoah extended his winning streak to seven races. He matched the accomplishment of his grand-sire, Empire Maker, who won the 2003 Belmont, spoiling Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid.
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.
American Pharoah — his tail shortened after being bitten off on the farm as a youngster — turned out to be that horse. He awed observers with his speed and a fluid, springloaded stride in which he appeared to float over the ground.
He was 2-year-old champion last year, and virtually cinched similiar honors for his achievements as a 3-year-old this year.
Unlike Affirmed, who dueled Alydar in all three races, American Pharoah didn't have a specific rival since he was only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races. Going into the Belmont, American Pharoah had beaten all of his seven challengers before.
Five of his rivals lost to him in the Derby, then skipped the Preakness to await the Belmont, a competitive advantage to horses that didn't endure the three-race grind. Tale of Verve finished second in the Preakness to American Pharoah, who had beaten Madefromlucky in the Rebel Stakes in March.
American Pharoah became the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 to run in all three races and win the Belmont, known as "The Test of the Champion."
He passed, with flying colors.