COLUMNS

Land of the Pharoah

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

Not only did American Pharoah do what many thought could not be done in this modern era of horse racing, but he did it in style.

After 37 years of dashed hopes and broken dreams, after 37 years of heightened expectations and bitter failure, horse racing finally has a Triple Crown winner.

On Saturday, American Pharoah became the world's favorite horse as he left all of the doubters and all of the decades of disappointment in the dust, along with his competition.

He led wire to wire and pulled away down the home stretch to win the Belmont Stakes by five and a half lengths to capture an elusive feat that had become virtually impossible to achieve.

And in becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, American Pharoah took his place as one of the greatest race horses of all time. And no, he didn't earn such a moniker by simply winning the race, he attained that status by how he has dominated the sport over these past five weeks.

He certainly proved me wrong. At this time last year, I wrote a column expressing my pessimism.

After California Chrome became the 13th horse since 1978 to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness just to fail at the Belmont, I feared that we would never see another Triple Crown winner.

It's easy to come to such negative reasoning when you've never seen a Triple Crown winner in your lifetime.

Winning all three races is already hard enough in itself, but it's even harder to pull it off in this modern era because of two reasons.

One: many horses that are racing in the Belmont have not raced since the Kentucky Derby. Therefore, they are much fresher than the horse that is going for the Triple Crown.

Two: horses are bred and trained differently than they were back in 1978. They don't race as much as the horses did in those days. Therefore, by the time they get to the one and a half-mile track at the Belmont, they usually run out of gas.

Those factors led to so many winning the first two legs just to come up short of the elusive Triple Crown.

Because of that, many felt like I did. They lost hope. They just accepted that it wouldn't happen again.

Heading into Saturday's race, there was considerably less hype and anticipation than in recent years. I think people were just like me in quickly dismissing the idea that the drought would end.

However, that didn't stop me from watching. I'm glad I did because I was able to witness history. For the first time in my life, I was able to see a horse win the Triple Crown.

And what makes American Pharoah's run even more impressive was what he was able to accomplish in this past month and change.

After barely squeaking by with a win at the Kentucky Derby, he took command of the sport.

In the rain and slop, he dominated at the Preakness--winning by seven lengths and at the marathon that is the Belmont--where Triple Crown hopefuls' dreams usually come to die--he made it look easy once again.

American Pharoah led from wire to wire and pulled away late to win by five and a half lengths. It was the fourth-most convincing victory in the Belmont's history for a Triple Crown winner.

The only better performances were Secretariat's masterful 31-length win in 1973, Count Fleet's 25-length victory in 1943 and Citation's eight-length win in 1948.

American Pharoah's time of two minutes and 26.65 seconds was the sixth-fastest ever and ranked second to only Secretariat's two minutes and 24 seconds when it comes to Triple Crown winners.

His final quarter-mile time of 24.32 seconds was even greater than Secretariat's 25 seconds but then again, by that stretch, Secretariat was so far ahead of his competitors that he could coast to the finish line.

Here are some more nuggets that should firmly cement Pharoah's status as one of the greatest horses of all time.

He won the Belmont and clinched the Triple Crown in only his eighth career start, and this was his seventh straight victory.

As mentioned before, many aspiring to win the Triple Crown fail at the Belmont because they're stuck facing horses that are much fresher. Many of their competitors will skip the Preakness to get ready for the Belmont.

That was the case this year. Five of the horses American Pharoah beat on Saturday hadn't run since the Kentucky Derby. In fact, American Pharoah became the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 to race all three legs of the Triple Crown and win the Belmont.

Whether you believe he is one of the greatest race horses of all time or not, there is one thing that is for certain. His name will now be forever remembered.

In the long and accomplished history of horse racing, he is one of only 12 horses to ever win the Triple Crown.

In 1919, there was the first ever winner in Sir Barton.

Eleven years later, there was Gallant Fox, followed by Omaha five years later and the legendary War Admiral two years after that.

In 1941, Whirlaway won with Count Fleet taking the crown two years later, followed by Assault claiming victory in 1946 and Citation winning in 1948.

Finally, the greatest race horse of all time, Secretariat, won in 1973, followed by Seattle Slew four years later and Affirmed in 1978.

And now, almost four decades later, we make room for American Pharoah.