American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza performed one of the sports world’s rarest feats Saturday, winning the Belmont Stakes, the third and final race needed to clinch the elusive title of Triple Crown champion. The win, only the 12th of its kind in history, ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought, and quieted skeptics who questioned whether it was possible to win the title in the era of modern horse racing.
The three-year old bay colt finished 5 1/2 lengths ahead of runner-up Frosted to win the Belmont Stakes, the longest and most demanding of the series of three races that comprise thoroughbred horse racing’s most prestigious achievement.
The other two races in the Triple Crown are the Kentucky Derby, where American Pharoah won by a length this year, and the Preakness Stakes, where he finished seven lengths ahead of the competition in a driving rain.
Since the last winner, Affirmed, clinched the title in 1978, 13 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to fail the final hurdle of Belmont.
Included in those who have come close to winning the title before are Espinoza and American Pharoah’s hall of fame trainer, Bob Baffert.
Baffert has had three failed Triple Crown attempts, including two with Espinoza as the jockey: In 2002, Espinoza rode War Emblem to a disappointing loss at Belmont, and just last year Espinoza and California Chrome tied for fourth in the race.
The prize for the race was $800,000, 10 percent of which will go to Espinoza, who has promised to donate it all to City of Hope, a medical research and treatment facility to which Espinoza normally donates a portion of his winnings.