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The cycle of sizzle and fizzle occurs so often that horse racing fans have started to grow cynical: an exciting young thoroughbred wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, only to fall short at the Triple Crown's final leg, the Belmont Stakes.
It's happened 13 times since 1978, when Affirmed became the last horse to pull off one of the sporting world's rarest feats.
The drought had gone so long that some wondered if it would ever happen again.
On Saturday, the drought was broken. American Pharoah sped away in the stretch and widened his lead to beat seven other horses in a thrilling victory.
The bay colt was this year's great hope to break the streak at the 147th running of the Belmont on Saturday.
Starting with Spectacular Bid in 1979 and continuing through to California Chrome last June, the would-be kings have grown to an unlucky 13. Silver Charm, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, War Emblem, Big Brown -- they and others brought buzz to the Belmont only to go home also-rans.
Less famous are their vanquishers. Summing? Bet Twice? Sarava? Lemon Drop Kid? Few remember their names, only their spoiler acts.
"The remarkable thing is that the public responds to it each time," said Ed Bowen, an author, historian and president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. "The hold of the Triple Crown on the public mind seems to be able to survive years and countless disappointments."
Horse racing needs the attention. The sport has been hemorrhaging fans, maligned by rogue characters, and suffering from a drop in the number of races. But those depressing headlines will largely be forgotten for at least two-and-a-half minutes, as American Pharoah battles seven other 3-year-olds on the mile-and-a-half dirt track.
Owner owner Ahmed Zayat, embroiled in a variety of legal and financial disputes, will add to his tremendous personal wealth. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert ended his own personal drought, having sent out three of the 13 near-winners since 1978. Jockey Victor Espinoza, who has ridden two Triple Crown contenders who failed at Belmont, will become a legend. American Pharoah will run a couple more races, then retire to a stud farm to live out the rest of his days siring new thoroughbreds.
The buzz of a history-making event might also restore, however briefly, horse racing to its golden-age reputation as The Sport of Kings.
But Bowen, whose organization is researching ways to draw more young fans to horse racing, said the sport's problems won't be solved by a Triple Crown winner.
"I think economically there will be a short-term boom," Bowen said. "I don’t think that a guy living in Ohio near the local track will start going to the races more often because he saw the Triple Crown on television. But the validation that it is possible will be exciting."