American Pharoah ends horse racing’s 37-year curse with Triple Crown

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At last!

Thank you, horsey!

American Pharoah finally proved to a generation that the Triple Crown is actually an achievable sporting title.

Way to go, buddy, winning the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes after already snatching the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes!

Sorry for the exclamation marks.

But not really.

The marks had been held in reserve for a Cubs World Series victory or anything, ever, being won by the city of Cleveland.

But the punctuation got yanked out of storage because of American Pharoah, with jockey Victor Espinoza aboard, doing what only 11 other horses have done, and none at all in most people’s memory.

With those yellow polka dots flying on his robin’s-egg-blue jersey (vice versa on his arms), Espinoza did what it takes to guide a great animal to an amazing performance in a grueling race — 1½ miles on dirt — a distance American Pharoah had never run before.

American Pharoah did this after winning the other two premier races in a span of only five weeks. Talk about tired.

And that’s not to mention the tension. If a horse — one fitted with earplugs in the stable to keep out distractions — can sense the noise and desires of a gigantic, gambling crowd, then rise to the pinnacle at the exact moment of need, well, that’s a horse with more than talent. He’s got cojones, too.

Speaking of which, American Pharoah has some fun (and lucrative) times ahead. Owner Ahmed Zayat already has sold the colt’s breeding rights for almost $14 million, with $4 million of that being the extra vigorish for winning the Triple Crown.

So the Pharoah (spelled incorrectly because of the winning entry in a naming contest) gets to meet some pretty sweet mares and party down with them. Gotta keep the bloodline flowing, you know!

At the end, there was nobody even close to this surging reddish horse with the funny tail. You’re aware the dude lost the end of his tail when another thoroughbred, Mr. Z, bit off a chunk, right? Thus, his tail looks more like a duster than the end of a horse.

American Pharoah has a ‘‘really sweet temperament,’’ trainer Bob Baffert said. And that, too, is nice to know.

A kindly, non-complaining, focused, once-bitten hero for the horse-racing crowd everywhere. What a way to end a drought that continued for all kinds of reasons, a curse some thought might never end.

What was the deal with no Triple Crown winners in almost four decades? There were three in the 1970s, after all. Then nothing.

The last Triple Crown winner before American Pharoah was Affirmed in 1978.

Through the years, experts blamed the lack of great horse genes, thoroughbreds being bred for speed, not endurance, rested horses skipping the Derby or Preakness, or both, before entering the Belmont.

Triple Crowns had been lost in the mud because of stumbles, injuries, leg-swelling, bumps, bad strategies, burnouts and almost anything else you could think of in a sport in which the only creature not interviewed is the competitor himself.

It didn’t seem to bode well for American Pharoah, either, that all 11 Triple Crown winners before him had at least one start at Belmont before the Stakes. Pharoah had none.

Yet he ate up the long oval like it was a pan of oats with corn.

He pulled away and won by 5½ lengths, or about a school bus and two scooters. The other horses ate his dirt clods.

Horse-racing history now can breathe a clean breath of fresh air. It’s not like this Triple Crown will bring a new audience to a sport dominated by electronic betting and muttering old men. But it’s nice just the same. The end of any curse is.

True, American Pharoah came in as a near-prohibitive 3-5 favorite after being favored in the Derby and Preakness. But being the favorite at Belmont had meant little before. The last nine favorites had lost.

‘‘He’s just a great horse,’’ Baffert said. ‘‘It takes a great horse to do it.’’

Carrots all around!

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander

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