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American Pharoah Claims Coveted Triple Crown

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American Pharoah, with jockey Victor Espinoza aboard, wins the 2015 Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., June 6, 2015. (Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

American Pharoah, with jockey Victor Espinoza aboard, wins the 2015 Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., June 6, 2015. (Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

American Pharoah on Saturday became the first horse in 37 years to capture Thoroughbred racing's coveted Triple Crown by handily winning the Belmont Stakes.

The 3-year-old colt, with jockey Victor Espinoza aboard, bested seven rivals at the Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, and won the race by five lengths. He covered the distance in 2:26.65 to end the longest stretch without a Triple Crown champion in history.

Frosted finished second, and Keen Ice was third.

Victor Espinoza sits astride American Pharoah in the winner's circle after gliding to victory in the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., June 6, 2015.

Victor Espinoza sits astride American Pharoah in the winner's circle after gliding to victory in the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., June 6, 2015.

Although American Pharoah started slowly, he quickly took the lead and held it for the rest of the 1 1-2-mile (2.414-kilometer) race.

American Pharoah is now the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown and was the first to claim it since Affirmed, with Steve Cauthen aboard, won it in 1978.

The Belmont Stakes is the longest of the three races that make up the Triple Crown series, the others being the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. It's dubbed "The Test of Champions" because of its demanding distance.

American Pharoah won the Derby in Louisville by one length on May 2 and then romped to a seven-length victory in the rainy Preakness two weeks later in Baltimore, Maryland.

American Pharoah was the only Belmont Stakes horse that raced in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, meaning he faced an entirely new field.

Espinoza hustled his horse to the lead after leaving the No. 5 post and quickly got him over to the rail. Never seriously pressured along the backstretch, American Pharoah began pulling away heading into the stretch turn. He then opened up on the field as he powered down the stretch, displaying his fluid, spring-loaded stride — and he ran the final quarter-mile in 24.32 seconds, faster than Secretariat's time of 25 seconds in winning the 1973 Belmont.

Before Saturday, jockey Espinoza had twice fallen short of winning the Triple Crown with losses in the Belmont, including last year when he rode California Chrome. Trainer Bob Baffert finally won on his record fourth Triple try, having lost in 1997, 1998 (by a nose) and in 2002.

American Pharoah delivered a victory for Egyptian-born owner Ahmed Zayat, who bred the colt and put him up for sale before buying him back for $300,000. His name came courtesy of the family's online contest, in which a woman from Missouri submitted the winning moniker, but the misspelling wasn't noticed until the name was already official.

American Pharoah joined the ranks of Triple Crown winners Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed.

American Pharoah's owner, Ahmed Zayat, pets him during his bath at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., June 5, 2015.

American Pharoah's owner, Ahmed Zayat, pets him during his bath at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., June 5, 2015.

The crowd of 90,000 — capped to avoid overcrowding and long lines from last year's total of 102,199 — roared as American Pharoah turned for home in front. As he neared the finish line, drinks were tossed into the air and fans jumped up and down in celebration, many holding their camera phones aloft to capture history on a sunny, 75-degree day at Belmont Park. It's unlikely the champion heard them, since American Pharoah wears ear plugs to block noise that might get him worked up.

With the victory, American Pharoah extended his winning streak to seven races. He matched the accomplishment of his grand-sire, Empire Maker, who won the 2003 Belmont, spoiling Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid.

Since 1978, the rigors of the Triple Crown had done in 13 other horses who won the Derby and the Preakness — with 12 losing the third leg and I'll Have Another scratched with a leg injury in 2012. Their failures left the sport and its fans craving a worthy successor to the 11 previous champions.

Some information for this report came from AP.

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