Christina Meiser, Staff Writer
The Triple Crown is one the rarest feats in horse racing. In fact, it’s so rare that only 12 horses have managed to sweep the series, including War Adrmial (1937), Secretariat (1973) and American Pharoah (2015). American Pharoah’s Triple Crown triumph was one that was waited on for 37 years after Affirmed had won it in 1978.
The Triple Crown includes three races. The Kentucky Derby, a race of a mile and a fourth that is often called the “fastest two minutes in sports,” is held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.
The second race, the Preakness Stakes, is held just two weeks after at the Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore, MD. The Preakness is shorter than the Kentucky Derby at a distance of one and three-sixteenth miles. The last race in the series is the Belmont Stakes. Known as the “Test of Champions,” the grueling mile and a half is held at Belmont Park in New York three weeks after the Preakness on the first Saturday in June.
Affirmed was the last horse to capture the Triple Crown before the longest drought between winners began. Multiple horses managed to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before falling short in the Belmont Stakes. It was beginning to look like another Triple Crown winner was out of reach. After California Chrome captured the hearts of America in 2014 with his brilliant Derby and Preakness victories, he finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes. His owner declared that he would never see another Triple Crown winner in his lifetime. Little did he know how wrong he was, for just a year later, American Pharoah would become the hero horseracing desperately needed and craved.
“What he did was give us a dream back,” said Kate, a fan of the Facebook Page Pray For Paynter which is run by FSC student Christina Meiser. “He made it possible to show it [The Triple Crown] could still be done and by doing so, engaged the public in his journey to accomplish what could not be done for 37 years. His personality made us all fall in love with him. His qualities of power, strength, stride, determination, beauty and heart are what he stood for. He fulfilled the dreams of many and gave us all inspiration that anything is possible.”
The Pioneerof the Nile-sired colt was foaled in 2012. He lost his career debut, but then kicked off a winning streak that included the Triple Crown. American Pharoah was named through a contest that his owners held. It wasn’t until the name was officially registered with the Jockey Club that they realized it was misspelled and by then it was too late. After a winning the Kentucky Derby by a length, American Pharoah romped in the Preakness, leading the entire way, splashing home over a sloppy track almost eight lengths ahead of his competition. All eyes were on Pharoah as he moved on to the Belmont and I was lucky enough to be one of 90,000 people to witness it in person. It was a day I’ll never forget. The gates sprung open and the race against history was on. American Pharoah shot to the lead, just as he had in the Preakness. He flew through the first quarter mile, keeping an easy lead throughout the race. Coming around the far turn, it almost looked as if the others would catch him. But American Pharoah wasn’t done. The colt kicked away, opening up on the field as he ate up the ground with each giant stride. The crowd was roaring, cheering the horse on as he galloped towards history.
“The 37 year wait is over,” shouted the track announcer, “American Pharoah is finally the one!”
American Pharoah fired past the finish line almost six lengths ahead of the others. Everyone erupted in an explosion of celebration. People were hugging each other, jumping up and down, crying, screaming and just going crazy. American Pharoah paraded up and down the entire length of the grandstand before going to the winner’s circle. Being able to witness such an incredible thing made it the greatest day of my life.
“It was the culmination of a lifetime dream,” said Mandi, another follower of Pray for Paynter. “I sobbed and hugged my ten-year-old sun as he [American Pharoah] ran down that Belmont stretch.”
American Pharoah bounded back from his Triple Crown campaign with an effortless win in the Haskell Stakes at Momnouth Park in New Jersey. The Triple Crown winner would lose his next race for only the second time in his career. American Pharoah ran one of the fastest opening quarters in Traver’s history and after dueling with rival Frosted, was caught by Keen Ice at the last second. Everyone was stunned and the owners even considered retiring the horse, but it was decided he would take his shot at the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Nine weeks later on October 31, all eyes were on American Pharoah as the colt attempted to make history once again. American Pharoah went gate-to-wire to win the Classic by six and a half lengths, smashing the track record by more than five seconds after running the one and one-fourth miles in two minutes.
With the Breeders’ Cup out of the way, American Pharoah was retired. He is settling in at Coolmore Stud (Ashford) in Kentucky. His stud fee was recently announced at a whopping $200,000; one of the highest starting fees for any freshman sire.
American Pharoah set the bar for any future Triple Crown winners. He was the horse America had waited 37 years for, and for some, that wait was an entire lifetime. American Pharoah earned his place among the all-time greats like Man O’ War, Secretariat, Ruffian and so many others who are considered racing’s most elite.