Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Justify wins Triple Crown with dominant victory at Belmont

ImageJustify ridden by Mike Smith began his Triple Crown bid by winning the Kentucky Derby on May ImageJustify ridden by Mike Smith began his Triple Crown bid by winning the Kentucky Derby on May
| 10 June, 2018, 07:27

The Mt. Vernon native owns Winstar Farms in Kentucky and has had horses win all three of horseracing's Triple Crown races, just never in the same year. He followed it up with a half-length win in the slop in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 19.

Justify is a product of a mare Gunther owns, and was bred at his Glennwood Farm in Versailles, KY. Given the fatigue of hard races two weeks apart, they could see Justify as beatable at the Belmont. Justify did that before a rapturous crowd of 90,327, leading wire to wire to cover the 11/2-mile distance in 2:28.18 with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith aboard. "And if he's anywhere close as good as Justify that would be a great accomplishment as well".

Jean Cruguet crossed the finish line to make Triple Crown history with Seattle Slew in 1977 and remembers it as one of the best days of his 79-year-old life. He also made a late charge to grab third in that race.

As for Baffert, it's now two Triple Crowns in four years, cementing his spot among the legends of the sport, matching the two won by the legendary James E. "Sonny Jim" Fitzsimmons, who trained Omaha and Gallant Fox in 1930 and 1935.

"This horse ran a tremendous race, he's so gifted", said Smith, who looked to the sky to celebrate after his ride. He did it with American Pharoah in 2015.

And while there was no pent-up anguish this time around to vigorously stoke enthusiasm, Justify, ridden by the 52-year-old ironman Mike Smith, did not disappoint the crowd as he captured the 150th Belmont Stakes and become just the 13th Triple Crown victor.

There's good reason for that - the King made a surprise appearance behind Baffert in 2015 when his racehorse American Pharoah became the first to win the Triple Crown in 37 years. The great Secretariat ended a 25-year drought in 1973 in record fashion, then, four years later, Seattle Slew came along to put his flawless stamp on the feat.

The powerful colt with the blaze running the length of his face showed no signs that the rigors of running a compressed schedule had gotten to him.


Justify keeps showing something new each time he races.

The Bill Mott-trained Hofburg finished 1 3/4 lengths behind Gronkowski, holding third by a neck over Vino Rosso.

"He's sent from Heaven", Smith said.

"Just so blessed that this happened", he told broadcaster NBC.

"I actually thought maybe he's not going to break today".

Like "Big Red", as Secretariat was lovingly called, Justify (an even bigger "Big Red", at 16.3 hands and 1,380 pounds, compared to a typical 1,100-pound thoroughbred), broke from the No. 1 post. The horse helped. Asked if he'd rank Justify as the greatest thoroughbred, Smith laughed.

Smith got the big colt into a relaxed rhythm under a moderate pace heading into the backstretch, and he had an easy trip from there.

Darren Rogers, spokesman for Churchill Downs, tweeted after the Belmont that Justify would return there on Monday afternoon. Gronkowski entered the race at 12-1 odds.

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