I was about nine years old when I really started following horseracing. It was 1997, and I became smitten with a gritty grey by the name of Silver Charm. He was trained by Bob Baffert, who to this day is still probably the only horseracing personality my sister can easily recognize because of his trademark white hair and sunglasses. When Silver Charm got passed in the last few yards of the Belmont by Touch Gold, it was my first taste of Triple Crown frustration.
I had a homemade t-shirt, crafted at some backyard get-together where we painted our own blank shirts with fabric paints, that listed the Triple Crown winners from Sir Barton on through Affirmed. I kept scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings from each Triple Crown season, hoping maybe one day I’d have something for posterity. 1998 rolled around, and I thought for sure I would get to stencil in Real Quiet’s name at the bottom of the list. In fact, when I still see that replay, I think Baffert’s skinny bay gets the head bob at the wire over Victory Gallop.
As I got older and more into the sport, the realization and weight of history began to come more into focus. With each passing failed attempt, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, I’ll Have Another, and California Chrome, I got more cynical. Maybe this was impossible. Maybe we didn’t breed horses the way we did back then, no one trained them like they used to in the old days and it just seemed like too tall of a task. So even though American Pharoah, two year old champion and 6-7 in his career, looked the part, I knew in my gut that the weight of history, that final quarter mile on the Belmont homestretch, would test him to his limits.
But even through all the years of frustration, I felt adamant that the format of the Triple Crown should remain the same. It would do no service to history knowing a horse had captured the crown under different circumstances than those who had come before. So, as Baffert’s handsome bay colt with the short tail and misspelled name came cruising down the stretch with that beautifully efficient stride of his, I’m sure I felt as many others did. It was proof that it could be done, it just takes a special horse. I’ve considered myself lucky, having seen some wonderful horses that will definitely go down as some of the sport’s greatest, but in watching American Pharoah cross the wire, he fulfilled that childhood dream I’ve had almost all of my life. Now, we can finally add another name to the list.