Sunday, June 7, 2015

Crown royalty

Thirty-seven years is a long time to wait for a horse to quit tripping over a Belmont Stake.

Until American Pharoah shifted into high and left a collection of mutts floundering in his majestic wake yesterday, we hadn't seen anything comparable since the late 1970s. Jimmy Carter was president. "Malaise" was a thing. So were the BeeGees, college students named Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson, shorts on major league baseball players and propping up a thief in Iran.

The last of which we're still paying dearly for, in one form or fashion.

So this was big, American Pharoah finally winning the Triple Crown again. We are a nation both forgetful of and fascinated by history, and when Pharoah drove toward the finish, America scooted its chairs closer to the TV.  In the bar where I watched the Belmont, people broke into applause when he crossed the finish line. I can't remember the last sporting event I watched in a public place eliciting that sort of reaction.

The only thing that marred it was how profoundly undramatic it all was, after 37 years. American Pharoah broke first from the gate and was never headed. He was never even really challenged. It left you with unavoidable questions about just how great a horse we were seeing here. Was he legendary, or was every other 3-year-old in the world this year Alpo?

I suspect it's a little of both, frankly. But if we're ranking Triple Crown winners, it's clear Pharoah is no Secretariat (because, after all, no other horse has ever been Secretariat). And he's not Affirmed, who had to survive three stirring duels with Alydar to win the Triple Crown.

Any other year, Alydar wins the Triple Crown himself. Ditto Sham, who was Secretariat's foil in 1973. You can't really say that about any of the horses Pharoah left in the wind.

On the other hand ... romping to victory in the Preakness in the slop the way he did and being as untouchable as he was yesterday suggests Pharoah is no average piece of horseflesh, either. It makes him pretty special in his own right.

And so: Applause, applause. At long last.

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