CRAWFORD | Secretariat? No. But American Pharoah proved worthy o - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Secretariat? No. But American Pharoah proved worthy of Triple Crown club

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Secretariat's statue in the paddock at Belmont Park (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford). Secretariat's statue in the paddock at Belmont Park (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford).
Fans lined up to buy Secretariat merchandise at the Belmont Stakes. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford). Fans lined up to buy Secretariat merchandise at the Belmont Stakes. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford).

ELMONT, N.Y. (WDRB) — On the day that American Pharoah became the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, there was more Secretariat merchandise being sold, and bought, at Belmont Park than for the new champion.

There will only ever be one king at Belmont Park. His statue is in the paddock.

American Pharoah ran the second-fastest Belmont of any Triple Crown winner, and sixth-fastest winning time ever. Secretariat would've finished 15 lengths in front of him.

That's not me talking. That's the clock.

But American Pharoah doesn't have to be Secretariat. No other horse has been.

CRAWFORD | American Pharoah brings 37-year Triple Crown drought to emphatic end at Belmont

What he did have to do Saturday was prove he belonged with the 11 other greats whose names line the concourses and hallways at Belmont Park, or grace street signs in Lexington.

And he did that, without question.

Where does American Pharoah rank? How much racing he does from this point on, and how he fares, will go a long way toward answering that. His owner, Ahmed Zayat, says he hopes to race him until the end of the year. That's Zayat's gift to the game.

It's worth noting for those who are skeptical of American Pharoah's quality that he not only won the three Triple Crown races in five weeks, but he won four Grade I Stakes in eight weeks — by a combined margin of 21 1/2 lengths.

Among Triple Crown winners, his aggregate time for the three races ranks fourth of the 12 — only Seretariat, Affirmed and Seattle Slew were faster.

He belongs in the club.

What he didn't have that Affirmed had was Alydar. He did not have a brilliant rival breathing down his neck at every stop.

But what he did do was beat fresh horses at every stop. He was the only colt this year to run all three Triple Crown races. He beat 33 competitors in his three Triple Crown victories, including seven in the Belmont, which ties the most any Triple Crown winner has ever beaten.

Only War Admiral and Omaha beat more competitors in the three races (34) than American Pharoah turned away. Assault faced the same number. as American Pharoah.

Moreover, American Pharoah became the first Kentucky Derby winner to win the Belmont since 1985 and just the third to do it since Affirmed's Triple Crown in 1978.

In horse racing, the reminders are everywhere that the sport isn't what it once was. NBC, in its introductory montage for its network coverage Saturday, included many images of newspapers on the presses and front-page headlines, images, too, that are becoming a thing of the past as the public turns to smartphones and tablets.

What American Pharoah does is remind people that the sport is still around. That its greatest stars are not all in its past, but they can be today. That it can make headlines in new media just as it made them in the old. We just have less time to enjoy them.

Where American Pharoah ranks among the greats will be a matter of some debate among thoroughbred racing types. I'm not sure an accurate judgement can be made quite yet.

I can make this judgment: There is no question he belongs among the 12. He can hold his head high in horse racing's most exclusive club. He earned it.

Is he Secretariat? No. Is he Affirmed? He won't get a chance to be. Affirmed won six straight Grade I stakes at three, then did it again at four. Time will not be on American Pharoah's side in that race.

But for his time, and in his own era, he not only is a great champion, but worthy of inclusion with those 11 other Triple Crown names who whisper like ghosts through places where the sport still is treasured.

Add another name to the well-worn chorus. Where he fits, it's too soon to say. But that he belongs, let there be no question.

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