Updated on 06/11/2015 9:34AM

American Pharoah wins Belmont, becomes 12th Triple Crown winner

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Barbara D. Livingston
American Pharoah, with Victor Espinoza aboard, wins the Belmont Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths Saturday, becoming racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.

ELMONT, N.Y. – To months in a year, inches in a foot, signs of the Zodiac, members of a jury, and days of Christmas, the number 12 now includes Triple Crown winners.

American Pharoah put an emphatic exclamation point on the 2015 Triple Crown with a runaway victory Saturday at Belmont Park in the 147th Belmont Stakes, romping by 5 1/2 lengths in front of a crowd of 90,000 that included former President Bill Clinton.

He thus ended the longest drought in Triple Crown history, 37 years, since Affirmed in 1978. And he proved that, indeed, this feat is achievable, as long as a horse comes along capable of doing it.

American Pharoah is only the fourth Triple Crown winner since 1948, when Citation swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, the fourth horse to do so that decade. There was a 25-year gap until Secretariat in 1973, the first of three Triple Crown winners during that decade.

But in the years since Affirmed, 13 horses prior to American Pharoah had won Derby and Preakness but could not complete the sweep. The cumulative effect of three races in five weeks, plus the preps, proved too high a hurdle to clear.

American Pharoah cleared it and was the only horse this year who competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

This was the fourth attempt at a Triple Crown for trainer Bob Baffert, who had failed with Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and War Emblem. And it was the third try for Victor Espinoza, who failed with War Emblem and California Chrome.

Their failed bid 13 years ago in concert with War Emblem is now a fading memory, as American Pharoah – bred and owned by Ahmed Zayat – ran his way into the record books in a performance that left no doubt as to his superiority.

American Pharoah was rocking back and forth after loading into the gate, and a split-second before the gate opened, he started to go back again, but he still broke decently, then was hustled aggressively by Espinoza to make the lead before the runners reached the first turn.

“He kinda sat back, but in two jumps, he was right on the lead,” Espinoza said.

After that, it was a parade. “I had the best feeling ever on the first turn,” Espinoza said. American Pharoah combines raw speed with uncanny sensibility, and he rocked along on the front end setting comfortable fractions of 48.83 seconds for a half-mile, 1:13.41 for six furlongs, and 1:37.99 for a mile.

“You don’t even feel he is going that fast,” Espinoza said.

It was clear, midway on the final turn, that Espinoza had plenty of horse under him. Frosted got closest in upper stretch, but then Espinoza let American Pharoah storm home, and he put daylight between himself and the rest of the field with a final quarter-mile in 24.32 seconds to cover 1 1/2 miles on the fast main track in 2:26.65.

As the favorite, he paid $3.50 to win, but quite a few of those $2 win tickets will never be cashed and will instead become souvenirs.

Frosted held second, two lengths in front of third-place Keen Ice. Mubtaahij was fourth and was followed by Frammento, Madefromlucky, Tale of Verve, and Materiality.

The win was the seventh straight for American Pharoah, who lost his debut last year and is unbeaten since. He was named the champion 2-year-old male of 2014 and has won all five of his starts this year.

Zayat bred American Pharoah by uniting his sire Pioneerof the Nile with his mare Littleprincessemma, a daughter of Yankee Gentleman.

“He’s just an amazing horse,” Espinoza said. “It’s unbelievable how things work out. I have so much confidence in American Pharoah.”

“Everybody came to see something great,” Baffert said at a post-race press conference, “and we witnessed it.”

For Baffert, a flood of emotions came over him. He watched the race with all five of his children – four from his first marriage and his young son, Bode – but said his thoughts during the race drifted to his parents, Bill Sr. and Ellie, both of whom died in recent years. His father, a trainer operating out of Nogales, Ariz., was instrumental in getting Baffert interested in racing. Baffert lovingly refers to him as “Chief.”

“This is very emotional,” Baffert told NBC’s Kenny Rice immediately after the race. “I was thinking about my parents. I wish they’d have been here to see this. People kept asking me how I’d feel. I didn’t know how I’d feel. Now I know.”

Baffert said the Triple Crown was swept by American Pharoah because “it takes a great horse to do it.”

“You have to have the horse,” he said. “He’s a very special horse. I didn’t win it. He’s the one that won it.”

When American Pharoah came back toward the grandstand after pulling up after the race, Espinoza took him all the way up the stretch so that fans seated throughout the grandstand could see him one last time before he headed to the winner’s circle. Just 20 miles from Manhattan, it was racing’s version of a Broadway bow.

As American Pharoah was brought down Belmont Park’s victory lane toward the winner’s circle, track announcer Larry Collmus introduced him to the crowd as “racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner,” and the fans let out an appreciative roar.

The winner’s circle was chaotic, with photographers pressing forward, security and other officials trying to hold them back, those associated with American Pharoah trying to position themselves for the winner’s-circle picture, and, in the midst of it all, a 3-year-old colt who, remarkably, never got anxious.

It had taken 37 years for this moment, and if it took a few more minutes to get a picture taken, American Pharoah was more than happy to oblige. He had done everything else.