There was speculation all week if Justify and his jockey Mike Smith had what it took to complete the third leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday and finish off his chase for glory at the Belmont Stakes.
On the anniversary of Secretariat’s dominant 31-length victory at Belmont, Justify went wire-to-wire and became the 13th Triple Crown winner in history and joining Seattle Slew (1977) as the only undefeated Triple Crown winner.
It only took three years after American Pharoah broke the 37-year drought before the world got another Triple Crown winner. Perhaps, the pattern is shaping up to replicate the multiple Triple Crown winners in the 40s and the 70s.
Despite having the No. 1 post position, Justify broke well and set the pace. Smith, who was wearing China Club silks instead of the WinStar silks he wore the Derby and Preakness, was in control the whole time.
Longshot Restoring Hope wasn’t too far off in second before falling behind on the far turn. Gronkowski went from last to second but no one could catch the heels of Justify. As a result, Smith won his third Belmont Stakes and his first Triple Crown, the oldest jockey (52 years old) to do so.
Conditions were the opposite of the muddy tracks that Justify saw at Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, where he was the most tested down the stretch. It shows just how incredible Justify truly is.
One can’t help but feeling odd at this realization considering Justify came out of nowhere and didn’t break his maiden until mid February. Four months ago, Justify hadn’t even raced and now he’s a Triple Crown winner. No one saw this coming.
Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, is now a two-time Triple Crown winner, having won with American Pharoah in 2015. Baffert says, “He’s just one of those all-time great horses.” Baffert came up empty with the Triple Crown hopefuls with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002.
“I’m so proud to be an American and feel this way. It’s very emotional for me,” Baffert said. “I know I’ve got a lot of help upstairs.”
The horse who sold for $500,000 at Keeneland just a few years ago is now worth an estimated $75 million with rumors of Coolmore Farm trying to buy his breeding rights from WinStar Farm and the rest of the owners.
According to Baffert and WinStar, Justify will rest and race again, which many suspect will be at the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs in early November where he looks to join American Pharoah as the only horse to win the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing.