There were many great performances in the area in the year about to come to an end. Kirk Cousins, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Alex Ovechkin, John Wall.
Who will ever forget Paul Pierce’s called shot?
To me, another form of artistry stood out. It was witnessed by a crowd far larger than at Ravens or Redskins games and three times bigger than those at Orioles or Nationals games.
It was history.
For the first time in 37 years, Marylanders witnessed part of a Triple Crown when American Pharoah romped to a seven-length win in May’s Preakness at Pimlico.
Thirteen times since the last Triple Crown winner, a horse had won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but failed to win the Belmont.
American Pharoah changed all that, and fulfilled one of my remaining wishes in my writing life.
When I was a little boy, my grandparents came to our house in Brooklyn each Saturday. Every week, my grandfather and I, joined occasionally by my father, his son-in-law, watched “The Race of the Week” from New York and Florida tracks. I became a horse racing fan.
In 1973, the great Secretariat won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and was highly favored to beat a small field in the Belmont.
And beat the field, Secretariat did, winning by an unfathomable 31 lengths. His winning time for the 1 ½ miles was a record 2:24, more than 2.6 seconds faster than American Pharoah’s time.
I’ve watched the amazing video of Secretariat’s win countless times knowing I’d never see anything like that. Neither did my grandfather.
A few months after the Belmont, my grandfather died, and the weekly race viewing at my house stopped. I kept up with horse racing, always watching the Triple Crown races.
Four years after Secretariat’s win, the underrated Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown, and a year later, Affirmed won it in a stirring Belmont duel with Alydar.
Then, the drought began.
As a young reader of sports pages and magazines, I learned there might never be a Triple Crown winner again. Secretariat’s win was the first Triple Crown since Citation in 1948—a gap of 25 years.
While good horse after good horse failed to capture the Belmont, various theories were thrown out. Horses are bred for speed, not distance. They don’t race enough, and the Triple Crown calendar is too brutal.
Tom Chuckas, who ran the Maryland Jockey Club for six years until his resignation in Nov. 2014, darkened his final Preakness Day by again publicly campaigning for a lengthening of the Triple Crown schedule.
Instead of three races in five weeks, the Kentucky Derby’s first Saturday in May should be followed by the Preakness on the first Saturday in June and the Belmont on July’s first Saturday, Chuckas said.
American Pharoah’s triumph ended that crazy talk.
In my father’s and grandfather’s time, a Triple Crown winner was known by everyone—just like the name of the heavyweight champion.
Now, except for these three races and perhaps the Breeder’s Cup, there’s little public attention on horse racing.
Most tracks have been reduced to veritable off-track betting parlors with small crowds watching live races. Few young people are fans of the sport. Ninety seconds or two minutes of action every half hour aren’t enough to hold their attention.
They’d rather play poker or fantasy football.
For a moment, American Pharoah changed all that. For six months, he reigned supreme—from the Derby to his farewell win at the Breeder’s Cup in Keeneland, Pharoah was a champ.
American Pharoah suffered a loss in last August’s Travers Stakes in Saratoga, but it doesn’t diminish his greatness.
For those of the more than 131,000 at Pimlico who braved a pre-race monsoon, they saw a great horse do something that hadn’t been done since 1978—and gave me the chance to say I covered part of a Triple Crown winner.
MORE YEAR IN REVIEW: 50 of the best DMV sports photos from 2015