Horse lovers in Mauritius and across the world have their favorite equine champions. Some love the stayers which compete the French Arc de Triomphe, or the milers of the St. James Palace Stakes in Britain, or the Melbourne Cup’s list of legends, and of course the classic champions of the Champ de Mars. But for me as a horse-lover, there is a special breed of thoroughbred heroes, who stand as an intangible symbol for equine perfection through their ethereal elegance, their impossible speed tamed with spectacular endurance, and their running amidst history and reaching for immortality. They are the American Triple Crown Winners: horses who have won the arduous marathon of three consecutive races over a daunting five-weeks period. The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes are those races, ran across three different states through a thousand miles journey through May and June every year, while carrying the dream of a whole generation. And sometimes, when the wait is too long for the impatient, some stellar comet appears on the track, a superhorse thundering its hooves like bolts of hope in equine poetry, where the ‘impossible’ rhymes with the ‘possible’.?In 2014, when California Chrome broke millions of dreams by failing to win the last leg of the Triple Crown, a little horse named American Pharoah, with quizzically short tail and a wrongly-spelled name, was making his way through the lower divisions. The horse trained by Bob Baffert is owned by Egyptian-American Ahmed Zayat, who chose to epitomize his own cultural duality of East meeting West in the horse’s name. Despite being forced to end his 2014 campaign in October through a training injury, American Pharoah would still win the Champion two-year old Eclipse Award. His three-year old campaign would resume months later in a fantastic manner in March 2015 with a 6-length victory in the Rebel Stakes and another 8-length win in the Arkansas Derby in April, which was to be his final preparation before the daunting challenge of the Triple Crown.?The sheer clock-work technicalities of traveling, preparation, training and racing for each of the three races which are the 2000 metre-Kentucky Derby, the 1900 metre-Preakness Stakes and the 2400 metre-Belmont Stakes reserved for three-years old justify how in almost 150 years of racing history, only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown before June 2015: 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 (1978). Media pundits around the globe have debated, analyzed, and deconstructed why since 1979, the thirteen horses who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, failed to win the last Belmont Stakes, which is referred as ‘The Test of Champions’. From wild theories of the effects of modified nutritional intake through the decades and genetic conditioning, to the more pragmatic excuses of preferential speed-training over endurance-building for horses, many believed that we would probably never see a Triple Crown Winner, myself included. For me, it was essentially the fresher horses who avoided the Preakness Stakes, and came fresh into the Belmont Stakes who made the task even more non-pragmatic. ??On 2 May 2015, the Kentucky Derby, referred as ‘The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports’, opened with eighteen horses including quality thoroughbreds such as Materiality, Dortmund, Frosted, Keen Ice and Mubtaahij. Despite being a frontrunner, American Pharoah would be denied leading the race and would win the hard way by charging late into the last furlong, winning by a length over Firing Line. Every year, the Kentucky Derby winner would become the automatic subject of a passionate bid, and American Pharoah was no exception. Over the years, watching horses like I’ll Have Another in 2012 (non-participation in the Belmont Stakes) or California Chrome in 2014 fail to win the Triple Crown, I was very sceptic when two weeks later on 16 May 2015, American Pharoah engaged the Preakness Stakes on the heavy and rainy track of Pimlico. But this time, despite the arduous conditions, the horse jumped to the front, controlled the race nicely by jockey Victor Espinoza, and charged to win with an incredible 7-lengths. With the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in its saddle, American Pharoah became the fourteenth horse since 1979 to get a chance to win the Triple Crown, with all the previous ones failing of course.?Finally on Saturday 6 June 2015, the last leg of the Triple Crown which is the Belmont Stakes kicked off through the roar of thousands at the Belmont Park in New York. Aiming to deny American Pharoah’s incredible historic bid, five horses who were beaten in the Kentucky Derby and eclipsed the Preakness Stakes, entered the race. Charging badly to the lead, American Pharoah maintained a respectable tempo ahead in the longest race of his career yet, worth 2400 metres long and the weight of his fourth race in eight weeks. Through the backstretch and the first 1800 metres, American Pharoah was constantly under the threat of second-favorite Materiality. As the crowd grew in apprehension and the clamor rose, no other contenders could follow the long powerful strides of a giant in the making. There was a moment before entering the final stretch where history zoomed through everyone’s eyes. Or maybe just mine. As the sky-blue and yellow silks of American Pharoah’s jockey turned into the final 400 metres with a 2-length lead over Frosted, there were momentary souvenirs of past heroes who turned for home and made history. Could he know as it breezed through the final straight that he was writing history himself, immortalizing his name along the tremendous machine Secretariat, or the crushing prowess of War Admiral? ?As American Pharoah passed the Belmont finish line victoriously with a 5-length lead, his seventh consecutive victory in a total of eight career races, the deafening clamor shrouded a superhorse whose heroics and beauty will certainly stand the test of time. Seeing a Triple Crown Winner in the making is one of the sport’s most tantalizing moments, one which I never thought I would be able to see or live to savor. And while he will keep charging down the straight of history for immortality in a blaze of glory, American Pharoah has written its name among the constellation of my equine heroes.?
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