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Alum’s Horse Is First Triple Crown Winner in 37 Years

American Pharoah takes race by five and a half lengths


American Pharoah, owned by Ahmed Zayat (SPH’86), became the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 on Saturday, winning the Belmont Stakes by five and a half lengths while an ecstatic crowd cheered him on. American Pharoah ran the mile-and-a-half race in 2:26:65 for jockey Victor Espinoza, who also rode him to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The three-year-old was favored to win the 147th Belmont Stakes, the third in thoroughbred racing’s famous trifecta. American Pharoah won the 141st Kentucky Derby on May 2 and the 140th Preakness Stakes on May 16.

The spoils of the Belmont victory include a big share of racing history, an $800,000 purse, and millions more in increased stud fees. The last Triple Crown win was in 1978, when Affirmed became the 11th horse to have accomplished the feat since the first, Sir Barton, won in 1919.

Since Affirmed took the Triple Crown 37 years ago, 13 horses have won the first two legs of the crown only to fall short at Belmont. Bob Baffert, who trains American Pharoah for Zayat Stables, trained three of them, and jockey Espinoza rode two.

Ahmed_Zayat at the 2015 Preakness Stakes

Ahmed Zayat hoists the trophy after American Pharoah’s win at the 2015 Preakness Stakes May 16. Photo by Maryland GovPics (Flickr)

Zayat competed in equestrian show jumping as a boy in Egypt. He attended Yeshiva University in New York City before earning a master’s from the School of Public Health. His wife, Joanne Kranz Zayat (SAR’84,’85), is also a graduate of the University.

In Egypt, the-52-year-old Zayat owned the Al Ahram beverage company, known for a popular nonalcoholic drink. After the company was sold to Heineken International in 2002 for a reported $280 million, Zayat returned to the United States and settled in Teaneck, N.J.

Zayat Stables, ranked number one in the nation in 2008 and 2015, is based in Hackensack, N.J. Zayat’s son Justin is the operation’s racing and stallion manager.

Zayat horses have won millions in prize money, and include 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, 2010 Derby favorite Eskendereya (who was withdrawn before the race), 2009 Derby runner-up Pioneer of the Nile, and 2011 Derby runner-up Nehro.

In Saturday’s race, with only eight horses—two were withdrawn earlier in the  week—American Pharoah, running in the number five position, was a strong favorite, starting the week at 3 to 5 odds. His closest competitor—both literally and at the starting gate—was Frosted, who started at 5 to 1 and ran from the number six position. Frosted finished second.

Pharoah, like some of Zayat’s other horses, was named to honor the owner’s Egyptian heritage; the winner of a naming contest reportedly misspelled the word “pharaoh.”

Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

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