Way back in June 1978, Jimmy Carter was president, there were more than 222 million people living in the United States, and "Damien: Omen II" was on its way to the top of the box office.
It was also the last time anyone in the world saw a thoroughbred claim the Triple Crown. Affirmed rocketed to fame as the 11th horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes within the tiny five-week span, but since then 13 others have come and failed at the final leg.
Now, American Pharoah, the three-year-old colt trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Zayat Stables, has the chance to end the Triple Crown drought in the 147th Belmont Stakes Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
For Baffert, its his fourth go-round with a Triple Crown contender and with jockey Victor Espinoza on board. The 62-year-old last saddled War Emblem for a shot at horse racing’s most prestigious title back in 2002, but he fell all the way back to eighth place in the grueling 1 1/2-mile blitz.
Five years prior, Baffert had the first of back-to-back attempts at the Triple Crown with Silver Charm in 1997, and Real Quiet in 1998. Both came up just shy as runners-up.
Despite or perhaps due in part to those crushing losses, Baffert told the New York Post he’s taken a different approach in the build-up to the sport's most anticipated race since California Chrome competed for the ever-rare title in last year’s Belmont. There's also a $1.5 million purse on the line, $800,000 of which goes to first-place, but the real prize is the Triple Crown.
“I’m much older now and I’m mellower, and I know what I have to deal with,” Baffert said. “I’m not so overwhelmed. The first couple times I came here, when I saw the media, it was like, ‘Wow.’ And I just felt like I had to talk to every one of you separately. I was just so worn out, my voice was gone. I was so burned out when it was over with, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.”
The Pioneer of the Nile colt will stare down seven other contenders as a 1/2 odds-on favorite from the No. 5 post, a slight shift from the 3/5 morning line odds that were announced by the track at the post draw Wednesday.
His top competition remains Godolphin Racing’s Frosted, a better rested three-year-old whose one of four participants that sat out out the Preakness three weeks ago but also fell to American Pharoah at the Derby in Churchill Downs. Frosted will be right beside American Pharoah at the No. 6 post.
Frosted’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin won the 2006 Belmont with Jazil after also sidestepping the Preakness. And McLaughlin isn’t shy about his desire to not only win this year’s race but to elicit a certain emotion from American Pharoah supporters.
"I hope they are booing," McLaughlin said to the New York Daily News earlier this week. "That's the way we have to look at it. We hope to get a boo out of them. You know I'm a racing fan too, and if we lose, I hope he wins for the Triple Crown, but once they go in the starting gate it's all about your team and your own horse. We're trying to win the race."
Indeed, the field is littered with contenders who not only want to win the Belmont but also deny American Pharoah the Triple Crown. And another top trainer capable of doing is Todd Pletcher and his duo of Materiality (7/1) and Madefromlucky (15/1).
Sired by 2005 Belmont winner Afleet Alex, Materiality won the first three races of his career, including the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby in late March, but finished sixth at the Derby to American Pharoah. He also skipped the Preakness, and the extra bit of rest figures to be a major factor late in the race. Pletcher's twice won the Belmont, with the last victory aboard Palace Malice in 2013.
Start Time: The approximate post time is 6:50 p.m., so the race will begin a few minutes after that. But television coverage starts at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online: A live stream is available at NBC Live Extra
Latest Odds from Belmont Park
1. Mubtaahij 16-1
2. Tale of Verve 20-1
3. Madefromlucky 15-1
4. Frammento 21-1
5. American Pharoah 1-2
6. Frosted 5-1
7. Keen Ice 17-1
8. Materiality 7-1