Can it finally happen after 37 years? Can 2015 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah capture the first Triple Crown in thoroughbred racing history since Affirmed in 1978?
We’ll know Saturday with the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes from Long Island, New York … and local racing fans can witness it live on the jumbo 40-foot screen at Hastings Racecourse with post time set for 3:50 p.m.
It marks the second consecutive year that jockey Victor Espinoza has entered the Belmont with the Triple Crown on the line. He finished fourth in 2014 aboard California Chrome.
Espinoza has ridden American Pahroah this year to a one-length victory over Firing Line in the Kentucky Derby on May 2 followed by a convincing seven-length win at The Preakness on May 16. But as the records show, winning the Triple Crown is one of the rare achievements in all of sports.
Dating back 96 years, only 11 horses have mastered the feat: Affirmed (1978), Seattle Slew (1977), Secretariat (1973), Citation (1948), Assault (1946), Count Fleet (1943), Whirlaway (1941), War Admiral (1937), Omaha (1935), Gallant Fox (1930) and Sir Barton (1919).
Local fans don’t have to be reminded how close hometown jockey hero Mario Gutierrez came in 2012 to racing immortality aboard I’ll Have Another. Together they won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and were listed as 4-5 favourites on the early Belmont morning line.
But as luck would have it, I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before the Belmont after the prized three-year-old developed tendonitis in his left front leg. Gutierrez was in utter shock along with an anxious and loyal following that stretched across Canada, the United States and into his native Mexico.
Live coverage of Saturday’s third jewel of the Triple Crown will be part of the racing card at Hastings that starts at 1:50 p.m. and features two $50,000 stakes: the Emerald Downs (3-year-old fillies) and River Rock Casino (3-year-olds). Sunday two more traditional $50,000 Hastings stakes are on the program: the Sir Winston Churchill (3-year-olds & up) and Vancouver Sun (fillies & mares, 3-years-old & up).