Triple Crown champ means much to state

The horse racing world centers around the Kentucky Derby — a maxed-out crowd of elite horses and fans at Churchill Downs — and an engaged national audience.

Nothing rivals the Derby for tradition or excitement.

Except perhaps winning all three of the nation’s premier races for 3-year-olds.

With success on the first Saturday in May, the Derby winner typically moves on to the Preakness Stakes two weeks later and the grueling Belmont Stakes three weeks after that.

Winning all three races has been more than elusive. It had become virtually impossible to match such as Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in a single game, Johnny Vander Meer’s no-hitters in consecutive games or Jerry Rice’s 1,549 NFL career receptions.

Legendary tales of super thoroughbreds had become the stuff of movie scripts and each year seemed a little less plausible.

From Sir Barton in 1919 to Affirmed in 1978, 11 horses captured the Triple Crown. After a 37-year gap, the list became an even dozen last Saturday when American Pharoah easily handled the mile-and-a-half at Belmont …

It has taken nearly four decades, but finally even casual race fans again are celebrating greatness. The Kentucky Derby Museum is moving quickly to welcome American Pharoah to its Triple Crown exhibit.

Horse racing represents the epitome of team effort. Owner, Ahmed Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza all did their part to ensure a quality horse became a new legend.

This horse has proven to be exceptional in more ways than one. What is even more remarkable is he was the only horse to have ran in all three races. He should have been tired. Instead of coasting to victory, he led wire to wire and actually widened the margin with what seemed to be an extra gear.

Having a new Triple Crown winner places more emphasis on the importance of the Derby. It makes the first weekend of May in 2016 even bigger and full of opportunity.

All great accomplishments start somewhere and in horse racing that somewhere is Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.

So from all of the race fans in Kentucky to American Pharoah, congratulations on your historic victory. It was well earned. Also, thank you for putting a sport that is a integral part of Kentucky’s heritage, back on top of the charts.

The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown

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