(Reuters) - Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday to end his career as horse racing's first-ever Grand Slam champion.
The Bob Baffert-trained colt, who earlier this year became the 12th horse -- and first since Affirmed in 1978 -- to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, romped to a commanding 6 1/2 length victory over a fading Effinex to bring the curtain down on a spectacular career. Honor Code was a
"I am so proud of this horse, but I am so relieved.," said a jubilant Baffert. "When he’s right, he’s right and you saw what he can do today.
"It’s tough to win a Breeders’ Cup; you'd better come with a good horse. I am so proud of him.
"This is the greatest horse I’ll ever see. He is a champion. I am so glad that American Pharoah goes out the champion he is.
"We're all going to miss him."
Since winning the Triple Crown and cementing his place in racing history, American Pharoah won the Haskell Invitational but finished second in the Travers Stakes on August 29 at Saratoga in New York.
Breaking from the number four post the three-year-old colt showed no signs of rust from the extended layoff, charging to the front and never surrendering the lead.
The 3/5 favourite controlled the pace over the entire 1 1/4 test, pulling away from the pack on the final turn to the thundering approval of a packed grandstand that had come to witness history.
Even with twice Breeders Cup winner Beholder having to pull out of the Classic due to injury, the field was rated the toughest ever faced by American Pharoah but the colt made it look easy as he would not let anyone spoil his farewell party, demolishing the competition under a perfect ride from jockey Victor Espinoza.
"He's the best," praised an emotional Espinoza. "He won easy. I knew it was going to be the last race and I was ready to ride him very hard but I didn't need to.
"I'm a little bit sad but he deserves to have a nice break. He's done so much, he has run so many times this year and I think it is time for him to step out and have a nice life."
American Pharoah heads into retirement having won nine of 11 career races and capturing the imagination of sports fans.
“What can I say? What a horse! He is the most brilliant horse I have ever seen," gushed owner Ahmed Zayat. "He is a once-in-a-lifetime horse.
"This race was only about American Pharoah and we wanted him to go out a winner. He runs with his heart and he is brilliantly fast. This was an incredible thrill. It was so emotional. I didn't even see the final eighth (of a mile) because I had my eyes closed the whole time. It was so emotional.
"The Triple Crown winner should go out in a way that is appropriate for both this sport and his fans, and for him."
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Both/Gene Cherry