As the year 2000 dawned, it had been 22 years since a three-year-old had swept the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown.
This was quite a run as when Affirmed won the Belmont Stakes in 1978, he became the second consecutive and third horse in six years to win the gold standard of US racing.
Secretariat's 1973 Triple Crown had broken a 25-year drought following Citation's success in 1948, but what would follow Affirmed's win was the most prolonged period between winners in the long history of the prize. From 1979 to 1999, seven horses won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, only to fall short in the Belmont Stakes.
For horse racing fans, there was an expectation that the new century would bring an end to the frustration of failing to see what would be the 12th accomplishment of winning the Triple Crown. There were glimmers of hope from 2002 to 2004, when War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones all won the first two jewels, only to again fall at the last hurdle, the Belmont Stakes.
On three more occasions - Big Brown in 2008, I'll Have Another in 2012 and California Chrome in 2014 - a myriad of circumstances once again conspired to continue the string of years without a winner of the Triple Crown.
Then in 2015 came American Pharoah, the Eclipse Award Champion Two-Year-Old Colt of 2014, who entered the Kentucky Derby after sweeping the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
The end of the Triple Crown drought
The Bob Baffert-trained colt won the Run for the Roses by a head over Firing Line after taking the lead at the top of the stretch.
He then dominated the Preakness Stakes almost from wire to wire, defeating Tale of Verve by seven lengths. This made American Pharoah the 14th three-year-old since Affirmed's Triple Crown success in 1978 to win the first two races, so despite his stellar record, there was plenty of skepticism throughout the horse racing community.
He went off as the heavy 4/5 favourite in an eight-horse field in the Belmont Stakes and broke into the lead right out of the starting gate. A couple of horses gave chase, but American Pharoah steadily increased his lead to win by five-and-a-half lengths over Frosted to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
American Pharoah's end to 2015
American Pharoah went on to compete in three more races as a three-year-old, winning the Haskell Invitational Stakes and finishing as the runner-up in the Travers Stakes before ending his racing career with a win in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Halloween. He led horse racing in earnings for 2015 with an incredible figure of $8,288,800, nearly four times that of Tepin, the second-placed horse.
The Triple Crown winner was named the Eclipse Award Champion Three-Year-Old and Horse of the Year of 2015. American Pharoah was inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2021 and had a Grade 1 Kentucky Derby prep race run at Santa Anita Park named in his honour.