It's something we've heard about every year for 37 years. About a dozen times during that stretch it gets really close. A horse wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and then races in the Belmont for horse racing's elusive triple crown. About a dozen times there's been disappointment, and then this year it happens! So why does it seem like such a letdown?
American Pharoah was an overwhelming favorite to win a race that only had seven other horses in it. Of those seven, six didn't compete in the Belmont. Maybe it's because I didn't watch the hours long pre-race coverage and didn't feel the hype. Maybe it's because they always show the same set of rich guys hugging each other after each race. Maybe it's because California Chrome, with northern California ownership came so close last year. But 2 minutes and 26.65 seconds after the starting gates opened, it was over.
The race itself was pretty good. I don't watch a lot of the sport but it seems like a horse never leads from start to finish. American Pharoah bolted away early, looked like he was starting to fade just before the turn for the stretch, then found an extra gear and headed home. I watched the post-race interview with jockey Victor Espinoza and felt genuinely happy for him. I saw the interview with trainer Bob Baffert and couldn't care less. Nothing against the man, but there's just nothing there to identify with. He's a rich guy in a sport of rich guys, and now he's even richer.
I don't remember watching Affirmed win it in 1978, the last time a horse swept all three big races. I probably did, and learnhed about Secretariat and some of the others. American Pharoah is now in that category and among the most elite thoroughbreds of all time. I saw the race. I'll remember it. Even if it only took two and a half minutes.