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A new generation has its Affirmed

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah crosses the finish

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah crosses the finish line at the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 6, 2015 at Belmont Park in Elmont. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Now all the details of the three races will be engraved on the three-sided Triple Crown trophy, and they won't stop there. Everything about American Pharoah will be etched in sports history, and carved forever onto the Internet, which didn't exist the last time a horse did what Pharoah did Saturday.

That is the mark of all sports greats: They transcend their own time and place. They can take their place among all-time legends and they are larger than life in their own time. American Pharoah completed the Triple Crown, writing his story in broad strokes -- and in 140 characters or less.

American Pharoah is the first Triple Crown winner to trend on Twitter. Many, and perhaps most, of the 90,000 people who screamed themselves silly at Belmont Park on Saturday are not old enough to remember Affirmed having been the previous Triple Crown winner in 1978. That is what made his performance in the Belmont -- and in the preceding Kentucky Derby and Preakness -- so special. American Pharoah did more than dust off memories. He gave the current generation something on which to hang its fancy race-day hat.

"I think it's going to bring a lot of new young fans into the game, a lot of new owners," said Justin Zayat, 23, who emerged as spokesman for his father, Ahmed, the horse's owner. He enjoyed the Triple Crown ride while finishing his degree requirements at NYU.

For years, the Triple Crown seemed like more of a concept than a tangible goal. The trophy sat in the Kentucky Derby museum, making trips to Long Island when someone had a chance to win it -- only to be dispatched back to Louisville.

Thoroughbred racing is different from what it was in Secretariat's and Affirmed's day. Horses that don't win the Derby often skip the Preakness and come back fresh for the Belmont, making the grueling mile-and-a-half latter much more difficult to win (and, it might be pointed out, making the Preakness easier to win, as well).

"We're in a time in breeding where there is too much emphasis on speed and not enough on stamina. That has contributed, too," said Jerry Crawford, manager of the group that owns Keen Ice, who finished third Saturday.

There was talk last June after California Chrome fell short in the final leg that the rules needed to be changed. Purists disagreed. Their number included jockey Victor Espinoza, who lost aboard Chrome but won aboard Pharoah. "That's why it's so hard to win. It has to be a special horse to win," he said. "All the horses that win, they're champions. How would it be fair now to change it, with all the champions that have already won?"

Winning the Triple Crown means being a living immortal. "We get to share somebody's greatness, we get to see it," said Bob Baffert, the winning trainer, who had lost by a nose in 1998.

The Crown involves doing something extraordinary, like the 1980-83 Islanders, who played not far from Belmont Park; like the 1998-2000 Yankees, managed by Joe Torre, who had lunch with his friend Baffert, and was trackside, savoring the victory afterward.

The elder Zayat said the other day, "Aren't you in awe?" He referred to the almost mythical quality of Pharoah's victory in the Preakness. "It wasn't only muddy, it was a monsoon," he said. "It was scary, it became pitch black and lightning and horses started getting spooked. Nobody ever responded to this condition before."

The words American Pharoah are instantly recognizable now, and will be, from here on. The horse is part of the sports lexicon. People who watched Saturday could feel it. They let out a roar that just kept going and going. It was appropriate that when Espinoza's fellow jockeys spoke about how remarkable it all was, you could barely hear them from a foot away.

"That was amazing, that was beautiful. It was special," said Joel Rosario, who rode Frosted. "When you go to the Kentucky Derby, it's kind of the same but with this horse going to the Triple Crown . . . I finished second and I'm excited, too.

"To wait for more than 30 years, and then it happened today, I'm excited, too, just to be in the race."

No one, though, was really in the race with American Pharoah, who moved into the legend category.

Said Irad Ortiz, jockey of fourth-place finisher Mubtaahij: "He's a monster, he's a freak."

And he never will be forgotten.

New York Sports