American Pharoah aims to defy history in Triple Crown bid

Mon May 25, 2015 9:05am EDT
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By Steve Ginsburg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - History suggests that there will be nothing easy about U.S. jockey Victor Espinoza's attempt to ride American Pharoah to a Triple Crown victory next month.

There has not been a Triple Crown winner since 1978 and one of the last attempts, by hugely popular Smarty Jones, ended in crushing disappointment.

As Smarty Jones barreled down the home stretch at Belmont Park in 2004, jockey Stewart Elliott knew his mount would fall short, disappointing a worldwide audience hoping to see the colt complete the Triple Crown.

Toward the end of the grueling 1-1/2-mile (2.4-km) course, the journeyman rider said he could feel the thoroughbred running out of gas and realized then that the Belmont Stakes was about to claim yet another victim.

"I knew if any other horse was running, we were going to get beat," Elliott said softly, recalling the pain of the 2004 race, "and we did."

On June 6, the world will get another opportunity to see a piece of sports history when Espinoza gets an unprecedented third crack at the coveted prize when he rides American Pharoah at Belmont Park to the cheers of a 90,000-strong crowd.

Espinoza, 43, is vying to become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown, one of the rarest feats in all of sports, having failed at Belmont Park with War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome a year ago.

No horse has won the Belmont Stakes after finishing first in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since Affirmed turned the trick in 1978 and Steve Cauthen became the youngest jockey to win a Triple Crown at just 18 years of age.   Continued...

May 16, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Victor Espinoza aboard American Pharoah looks back at the field after winning the 140th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports