American Pharoah made all the running to win Saturday’s Grade I Belmont Stakes to become the 12th US triple crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978.

Allowed an unchallenged lead, Victor Espinoza set a steady pace and American Pharoah always looked the winner, clear around the home turn and going on to defeat Frosted by 5 1/2-lengths, completing the 12 furlongs in 2:26.65.

Trainer Bob Baffert was winning the Belmont Stakes for the second time from 10 starters, three that were going for the Triple Crown – Silver Charm in 1997; Real Quiet the following year with both finishing second, and War Emblem who was unplaced in 2002.

Speaking at the post-race press conference, Baffert said he was confident when he saw the moderate early speed.

“We knew we had the horse. We hoped he had the horse,” Baffert said.

“Once Victor got him in the clear and got him into that beautiful mode of the way he just goes over the ground, I just loved every fraction. I saw 13 and change; I loved that.

“When I saddled him in the paddock, I could tell and I told Victor in the paddock that he was ready. I told him to go ahead and ride him with confidence and he did.”

Espinoza echoed Baffert’s thoughts.

“He was ready today. As soon as I sat in the saddle, there was so much power and so much energy this horse had,” Espinoza said.

“Warming up he was just class, all class. He was a touch slow out of there, but I sent him anyway.

“I’m telling you in the first turn it was the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

American Pharoah has now won seven of his eight starts, his only defeat coming on debut as a two-year-old last August at Del Mar.

He has joined Affirmed (1978), Seattle Slew (1977), Secretariat (1973), Citation (1948), Assault (1946), Count Fleet (1943), Whirlaway (1941), War Admiral (1937), Omaha (1935), Gallant Fox (1930), and Sir Barton (1919) in racing’s most elite club.

Daryl Sherer