LEXINGTON, Ky. - Victory was certain at the top of the stretch, and as American Pharoah spurted clear, Keeneland's decibel level went higher and higher. As he passed the wire 6½ lengths ahead of Effinex, the roar peaked.
"Turning for home, I was gone,'' jockey Victor Espinoza said. "I feel amazing. I never thought in a million years that I'd be in a position like this.''
The first Triple Crown winner in 37 years dominated the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic on a cool, chilly afternoon, delighting an overflow crowd of 50,155. The race unfolded on dirt exactly as it appeared to play out on paper, with Pharoah taking the lead out of the gate and never giving it up. This rerun of the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes had no anxious moments for the millions of Pharoahites and was glorious theater for the racing world.
"I wanted Pharoah to go out like the champion he is,'' trainer Bob Baffert said. "I'm so glad he gave the people what they wanted to see.''
Sometimes finales really can be grand.
"American Pharoah is a winner!" owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat screamed. "What a horse, the kindest, friendliest, most brilliant horse I've ever seen. We owe American Pharoah everything.''
The bay son of Pioneerof the Nile ran 1¼ miles on a fast track in 2:00.07 and paid $3.40 for his ninth win in 11 starts. He earned $2.75 million, raising his total to $8,650,300. Next stop is Ashford Stud in nearby Versailles, Kentucky.
Reflecting on his last ride on Pharoah, Espinoza said: "I'm a little bit sad, but he's done so much this year he deserves to get a break and have a really nice life.''
Mike Smith hustled 33-1 shot Effinex to chase Pharoah into the first turn, and they stayed that way through leisurely fractions of 23.99 seconds, 47.50, 1:11.21 and 1:35.47. Honor Code was 4½ lengths behind Effinex and 1½ ahead of Keen Ice, who nosed out Tonalist for fourth.
Smith never had any illusions that Effinex could do better than complete the exacta, which paid $76.40. "At the three-eighths pole,'' Smith said, "I thought, 'Don't panic, don't panic,' maybe we can hold on for second.
"The real American Pharoah showed up today.''
Effinex's trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, was thrilled by his runner-up who earned $900,000 for Tri-bone Stables. "I'm ecstatic,'' Jerkens said. "American Pharoah started pulling away but he stayed second. It was unbelievable.''
The margin tied Volponi (2002, Arlington) for most lopsided Classic, and the win payoff tied Cigar (1995, Belmont Park) for the lowest.
Tom Hammond, who anchored NBC's telecast, considered the four-legged idol's place in history: "American Pharoah's legacy as one of the all-time greats is assured with his dominating victory.''
Baffert was 20 when he watched Secretariat's 31-length Belmont win in a VFW hall in his hometown of Nogales, Arizona.
"Growing up, Secretariat was the greatest horse I ever saw,'' he said. "Just to be in the same sentence as him . . . I can't judge how great Pharoah is, but he's just incredible. I'll never have another one like him. He's a gift from God.''