American Pharaoh takes Belmont; first Triple Crown winner since 1978

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(CNN)– American Pharoah, the odds-on favorite, Saturday became the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown with a wire-to-wire victory at the Belmont Stakes.

The 3-year-old bay colt defeated second-place Frosted by a comfortable margin — 5 1/2 lengths. Keen Ice was third.

“Down the backside he was in his groove and I knew he’s a great horse and he was going to do it,” longtime trainer Bob Baffert said. “He’s just a great horse. It takes a great horse to do (win the Triple Crown).”

American Pharoah, ridden by Victor Espinoza, is the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, when Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

Owner Ahmed Zayat, when handed the Triple Crown trophy, said: “I am so thrilled, honored, privileged, humbled, excited.”

American Pharoah was the only horse in the race who had run both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. But he showed early he didn’t have tired legs.

Baffert and Espinoza each won their first Triple Crown after multiple prior attempts with other horses.

“I just feel like I have a very special horse and he’s the one that won,” Baffert, 62, said. “It wasn’t me.”

Espinoza, 43, also had a record-setting day as the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. He is also the first Latino jockey to win it.

“I came here with a lot of confidence, more confidence than the last two (Triple Crown attempts),” he said. “That trophy it caused me a lot of stress … but the third time was the charm.”

Espinoza first competed for the Triple Crown in 2002, but War Emblem faltered and finished eighth at Belmont. California Chrome finished fourth in 2014.

Until Saturday, 13 horses since 1979 had won at Churchill Downs and Pimlico but failed to triumph at Belmont.

In 1978, Affirmed, ridden by Steve Cauthen, defeated second-place Alydar in three exciting races.

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