This Day In Sports: Would it ever happen again? Yes…

June 6, 2015: American Pharoah becomes the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 37 years when he romps to a 5½-length victory in the Belmont Stakes. American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza led the grueling 1½-mile race wire to wire to end the longest Triple Crown drought in the sport’s history. Idaho native Gary Stevens, who rode Tale of Verve to a seventh-place finish at Belmont Park, had been runnerup to American Pharoah aboard Firing Line at the Derby.

The last horse to win horse racing’s fabled trilogy was Affirmed in 1978. That gave the sport back-to-back Triple Crown winners, as Seattle Slew had accomplished the feat the year before. No one anticipated the long wait ahead. Between Affirmed and American Pharoah, 13 horses had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes only to fall short in the Belmont. One of them, Silver Charm, was ridden by Stevens in 1997. The following year, Real Quiet won the first two legs of the series but lost in the Belmont to Stevens and Victory Gallop.

The wait for the next Triple Crown champion would last only three years. Justify, with Mike E. Smith on the reins, easily charged to victory in the Belmont. Justify defeated nine other rivals that day, the most ever faced by a Triple Crown winner. The track was dry and fast—Justify had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in sloppy conditions.

Secretariat, the dominant champion in 1973, holds the track record for each of the Triple Crown races, running the Kentucky Derby in 1:59.4, the Preakness Stakes in 1:53 and the Belmont in 2:24. Only one jockey has ever taken two Triple Crowns, Eddie Arcaro in 1941 and 1948. The youngest jockey ever to win the Triple Crown was 18-year-old Steve Cauthen aboard Affirmed in 1978, and the oldest was also the most recent, Smith, aboard Justify four years ago.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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