Bob Baffert was just soaking it in – the roar of 90,000 people and the sight of American Pharoah heading for the wire in the Belmont Stakes.
It was something the 62-year-old Hall of Fame trainer thought he might never see, a horse he trained seizing Triple Crown glory.
Baffert had brought three other Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners to Belmont, a graveyard for Triple Crown dreams since Affirmed became the 11th horse to complete the coveted treble in 1978.
“You have to prepare yourself for disappointment, otherwise it will wear on you,” Baffert said.
He had previously come to New York with Silver Charm in 1977, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002 only to see them falter in the final test.
“All I could think about today – I forgot to take my heart medication this morning,” he said.
“So I had to keep cool.”
In the end, American Pharoah, under jockey Victor Espinoza, made that easy for him.
He jumped to an early lead and led at every marker on the sweeping Belmont track to break the 37-year drought and become the 12th Triple Crown winner.
American Pharoah had never before raced over 1-1/2 miles (2400m), and Baffert couldn’t relax.
“Turning for home, I was prepared for somebody coming because I’ve gone through this so many times,” he said.
Frosted did make a move, closing slightly as they came into the final straight, before American Pharoah pulled inexorably away.
“I could just tell it was going to happen and all I did was just take in the crowd,” Baffert said.
“It was thundering and I was just enjoying the call and the crowd, the noise, and everything happening.”
It’s a glittering peak to a training career that began in the lesser echelons of quarter horse racing.
In the more lucrative world of thoroughbred racing, Baffert was a bracing, sometimes grating, contrast to the sport’s establishment.
Less than 12 months after setting up shop as a thoroughbred trainer in California, he won his first Breeders’ Cup race in 1992 with Thirty Slews in the Sprint.
While the Triple Crown filled a gap on his resume that loomed large after three failures, Baffert wasn’t hurrying to take credit for the historic achievement.
“I think the Triple Crown is about the horse,” he said. “It was about him because he’s the one that did it. I mean, we were just basically passengers.”