Justify Wires Field in Belmont Stakes to Become 13th Triple Crown Winner
Big Red has Justified his place in horse racing history. On a Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park in front of a crowd of 90,000 fans, many screaming and wearing yellow foam crowns, Justify roared down the stretch as the crescendo mounted and galloped his way into horse racing history. Justify won the Belmont Stakes in emphatic fashion, taking the lead early and never relenting for a 1 3/4 length victory over rallying longshot Gronkowski. Hofburg was another nearly two lengths back in 3rd a neck in front of 4th place finisher Vino Rosso.
Justify is now enshrined as racing’s 13th winner of the American Triple Crown, and he’s just the second colt to be undefeated in doing so.
“This horse ran a tremendous race,” said an emotional rider Mike Smith, the 52-year-old ironman who won his first Triple Crown. Trainer Bob Baffert won his second Triple Crown after training American Pharoah to Triple Crown glory in 2015.
“Mike Smith deserves something like this,” said Baffert during the presentation of the new Triple Crown trophy. Baffert is now one of only two trainers in history to saddle a pair of Triple Crown winners. .
Justify broke from the starting gate like a Quarter Horse, Smith said, immediately striding out for the lead. Stablemate Restoring Hope joined him while very wide on the track, and Bravazo was also a part of the early pace scenario as the field headed into the clubhouse turn.
Smith let Justify roll through a first quarter in :23.37, then subtly eased up the tempo to mark the half-mile in :48.11. Gronkowski was initially last in the field, as Justify went three-quarters in 1:13.21 and began to inch away from the field with Hofburg trying to put a bid between horses and Vino Rosso asked for more run. Gronkowski made his move along the rail to become the late rallying horse to push Justify, but the added Belmont distance was a non-factor for Justify, who finished the 1 1/2 mile test on a fast track in 2:28.18.
Justify returned $3.60 to win and $3.50 to place as the 4-5 favorite while 24-1 longshot Gronkowski paid $13.80 to place. The $1 exacta returned $44.50 while a $1 trifecta Justify – Gronkowski – Hofburg paid $229.
Justify will be pointed towards the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs, perhaps his final race before the riches really begin as stud. Baffert will evaluate his colt in the weeks ahead with a well-deserved rest before mapping out his races over the summer months. An appearance in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and/or $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga is likely, so stay tuned as Justify continues his magnificent 3-year-old campaign and enjoy watching the 2018 Horse of the Year.