By Paul Montague (The Spotter)
To borrow a line from the great Australian race caller Bill Collins, American Pharoah, the two-year old colt with the misspelt name and trained by the 62 year-old white-haired legend Bob Baffert, yesterday raced into ‘equine immortality’ in completing the legendary Triple Crown of wins in a calendar year (The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes). After a myriad of near-misses since the turn of this century, the Crown was finally completed around 11am Sunday morning NZ time for the first occasion since Affirmed did so back in 1978.
This now means that since it was first achieved by a horse called Sir Barton in 1919, the Triple Crown has only been landed twelve times in ninety-six years. It was also the longest time between Triple Crown achievements- the thirty-seven years topping the previous longest barren stretch of twenty-five years from Citation in 1948 to basically the legend of all American racing legends, Secretariat, in 1973.
And it really was a case of good things come to those who wait for the successful trainer and jockey, Bob Baffert and Victor Espinoza respectively. Baffert, three times previously in the short space of only six years (in 1997,98 and 2002), had not been able to win the Belmont after victory in the Derby and the Preakness; and Espinoza, finally a Triple Crown hero after winning the first two legs on War Emblem in 2002 (with Baffert) and California Chrome last year. The Mexican Espinoza also became the first jockey of Hispanic origin to win the Crown, the oldest to do it (at 43) and the first-ever to have had a third shot at doing so going into the race.
Amidst the euphoria afterwards, the almost-expected moment of cheesiness arrived when Baffert dedicated the win to his late parents. We should at least be grateful that he didn’t extend the next part of the syrupy speech to referencing the big man above.