Bears

American Pharoah wins first Triple Crown in 37 years

american-pharoah-belmont.png

American Pharoah wins first Triple Crown in 37 years

NEW YORK (AP) — Finally, a Triple Crown winner, and after 37 years of waiting, this one was never in doubt.

American Pharoah led all the way to win the Belmont Stakes by 5 ½ lengths on Saturday, becoming the first horse since 1978 to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes — one of the sporting world's rarest feats.

"Wow! Wow!" jockey Victor Espinoza said moments after crossing the finish line. "I can only tell you it just an amazing thing."

The bay colt with the unusually short tail easily defeated seven rivals in the grueling 1 1/2-mile race, covering the distance in 2:26.65 — sixth-fastest in Belmont history — to end the longest stretch without a Triple Crown champion in history.

[SHOP: Buy Triple Crown gear]

"That little horse, he deserved it," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's the one that did it. We were basically just passengers."

American Pharoah is the 12th horse and first since Affirmed in 1978 to win three races on different tracks at varying distances over a five-week span. He won the Derby by one length on May 2 and then romped to a seven-length victory in the rainy Preakness two weeks later before demolishing his rivals Saturday.

"I still can't believe it happened," said Baffert, at 62 the second-oldest trainer of a Triple Crown winner.

Baffert and Espinoza ended their own frustrating histories in the Triple Crown. Baffert finally won on his record fourth Triple try, having lost in 1997, 1998 (by a nose) and in 2002. Espinoza got it done with his record third shot after failing to win in 2002 and last year on California Chrome.

"I was prepared for somebody coming because I've been through this so many times," Baffert said.

Nobody did.

Espinoza hustled American Pharoah to the lead leaving the No. 5 post and quickly got him over to the rail. Materiality was on his outside in second, but never applied any serious pressure traveling on the backstretch before falling away on the second turn.

American Pharoah started kicking away heading into the stretch turn. He opened up on the field as he powered down the stretch, displaying his fluid, springloaded stride in which he appears to float over the ground.

"It's just an amazing feeling that you have when you're 20 yards from the wire," Espinoza said. "And then at the wire I was like, 'I cannot believe I did it.'"

American Pharoah ran the final quarter-mile — a stretch that has dashed numerous Triple Crown dreams — in 24.32 seconds, faster than Secretariat's time of 25 seconds in winning the 1973 Belmont.

After making his way back, Espinoza took American Pharoah nearly the length of the sprawling grandstand so the fans could pay their respects to the champion.

As the horses were heading to the starting gate, owner Ahmed Zayat was overflowing with confidence and turned to his wife.

"I told her, 'Get ready to be the owner of the 12th Triple Crown winner," he said.

Sent off as the overwhelming 3-5 favorite, American Pharoah paid $3.50, $2.80 and $2.50.

Frosted returned $3.50 and $2.90, while Keen Ice was another two lengths back in third and paid $4.60 to show.

Mubtaahij was fourth, followed by Frammento, Madefromlucky, Tale of Verve and Materiality.

American Pharoah delivered a victory for the Egyptian-born Zayat, who bred the colt and put him up for sale before buying him back for $300,000. His name came courtesy of the family's online contest, in which a woman from Missouri submitted the winning moniker, but the misspelling — it should be pharaoh — wasn't noticed until the name was already official.

"I can't believe it happened," said Justin Zayat, racing manager for his father's stable. "It's amazing. Oh my God."

American Pharoah joined the exclusive club of Triple Crown winners Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed.

Eddie Jackson says the Bears defense has to 'make a statement game' against Saints

jackson-1015.jpg
USA TODAY

Eddie Jackson says the Bears defense has to 'make a statement game' against Saints

The Bears defense gave up a season-high 24 points in the Week 5 loss to the Raiders. The bye week that followed meant they had to stew on that performance for an extra seven days.

Bears safety Eddie Jackson admitted the defense “didn’t hold up” in an interview on the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score on Tuesday morning. It sounds like they are fired up to not have a repeat performance against the Saints.

“We want to get that bad taste out of our mouths,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, we had to wait for a bye week.

“Now we got to make a statement game here at home.”

That statement game will have to come without stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Hicks got injured in the loss to the Raiders and is expected to miss significant time.

Jackson talked about what Hicks’ absence will mean to the defense.

“That’s a tough loss for us,” Jackson said. “The style of play Akiem brings is hard to fill. Right now we’re doing a good job holding up with guys coming in and stepping up, but at the end of the day that’s Akiem. His resume speaks for itself. What he does speaks for itself. Film, everything. It’s a tough loss, man. We’re hoping to have him back real soon for playoffs or the end of the season. It really hurts us, but we ride with him. He still comes around. He’s still engaged and meetings and things like that.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Will the Bears face the Saints without Drew Brees AND Alvin Kamara?

Will the Bears face the Saints without Drew Brees AND Alvin Kamara?

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees isn't expected to play Sunday at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears as he continues to rehab his thumb injury. Teddy Bridgewater has thrived in his absence, completing over 69% of his passes for 1,089 yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions in five games (four starts).

But the engine that makes the Saints offense go is RB Alvin Kamara, who tweaked his knee against the Jaguars Sunday. He was dealing with an ankle injury heading into the game, too, and played his least amount of snaps of any game this season.

New Orleans worked out RB Travaris Cadet Monday which at least signals some concern on the team's part that Kamara may not be able to play.

According to ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett, Kamara's status won't become clear until Thursday or Friday.

The Bears defense is more than capable of stopping New Orleans' offense with or without Kamara in the lineup, but their job will be much easier if the dynamic third-year pro is held out. Through six games this season, Kamara's totaled 373 rushing yards, 276 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

If Kamara can't play Sunday, the Saints will unleash a heavy dose of RB Latavius Murray, who Chicago is very familiar with after facing him five times while he was a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Murray's run for 214 yards and two touchdowns in his career against Chicago, but doesn't offer nearly the kind of game-changing ability that Kamara possesses. 

We'll have more on Kamara's status as the week progresses.