New York (AFP) – Justify became the 13th horse to win US racing’s Triple Crown with an electrifying triumph in the 150th Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
In adding the Belmont to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes victories, the unbeaten Justify made Bob Baffert just the second trainer to saddle two Triple Crown winners.
Drawn in the unfavorable first post, Justify burst from the gate under jockey Mike Smith and never trailed in the 1 1/2 mile race dubbed the “Test of the Champion”.
“I can’t describe the emotion that’s going through my body right now,” Smith said. “This horse ran a tremendous race. He’s so gifted. he’s sent from heaven.”
Despite drawing the rail, Justify went off as a 4-5 favorite. Gronkowski, a 24-1 shot trained by Chad Brown and part-owned by New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, finished second under jockey Jose Ortiz.
Hofburg, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Irad Ortiz — and reckoned by many as a contender to thwart Justify’s Triple Crown bid — was third.
Justify’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories both came on rain-soaked tracks.
And after he had to dig deep at Pimlico to claim the 1 3/16-mile Preakness some feared the 1 1/2-mile Belmont would be a stretch too far for the imposing chestnut colt.
Instead, he powered to the front of the field on the sweeping Belmont track called “Big Sandy” and ran like a machine to the wire.
“He’s just brilliant,” said Smith, who at 52 became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. “Did you see him in the gate? He was standing so still. I actually thought maybe he’s not going to break to day. I mean, he left like he was going 440 yards in Ruidoso, New Mexico!”
The last horse to complete a Triple Crown from the rail at Belmont was Secretariat, 45 years ago. And the only other unbeaten winner of the Triple Crown was Seattle Slew in 1977.
Unraced as a two-year-old, Justify improved to 6-0 in a racing career that only began on February 18.
Justify’s Triple Crown feat is the first since the Baffert-trained American Pharoah completed the sweep in 2015 — ending a 37-year Triple Crown drought.
The only other trainer to saddle two Triple Crown winners was Jim Fitzsimmons, who achieved the feat in 1930 and 1935.
“I wanted to see that horse’s name up there,” Baffert said. “We knew he was brilliant from day one.”