Jus­tify be­comes 13th Triple Crown win­ner

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Sports -

NEW YORK ( AP) — Jus­tify de­fied all the odds on his way to achiev­ing Triple Crown im­mor­tal­ity.

The late bloomer won the Belmont Stakes by 13⁄

4 lengths on Satur­day, giv­ing the sport its 13th Triple Crown cham­pion. Amer­i­can Pharoah ended a 37year drought in 2015 and now just four years later, rac­ing is cel­e­brat­ing an­other sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preak­ness and Belmont.

Jus­tify be­gan his rac­ing ca­reer on Feb. 18, a scant 77 days be­fore the Derby. He won his first three races by a com­bined 19 lengths, mak­ing trainer Bob Baf­fert a be­liever.

The big chest­nut colt with the ap­petite to match burst onto the na­tional scene with a 21⁄ 2- length vic­tory on a sloppy track in the Derby. Two weeks later, he sur­vived a chal­lenge in the fog- shrouded Preak­ness, win­ning by a halflength, again in the slop to set up a Triple Crown try.

On a cloudy 80- de­gree day at Belmont Park, Jus­tify proved a cool cus­tomer.

He didn’t flinch when greeted by 90,327 roar­ing fans as he walked onto the track. He stood so qui­etly in the start­ing gate that jockey Mike Smith won­dered if he’d re­spond when it sprang open.

Did he ever.

Jus­tify led all the way in achiev­ing one of the sports world’s tough­est feats 45 years to the day that Sec­re­tariat won the Belmont by a record 31 lengths.

Jus­tify ac­com­plished a lot in a very short time.

At 6- 0, he joins Seat­tle Slew in 1977 as the only two un­de­feated Triple Crown winners; he’s the first to sweep the se­ries with­out rac­ing at age 2 ( be­cause of a pulled mus­cle); and he’s the only horse to beat nine ri­vals in the Belmont with a Triple try on the line. Slew also was a wire- to- wire Belmont win­ner.

Jus­tify’s hu­man han­dlers also made his­tory.

Baf­fert be­came the sec­ond trainer to win the Triple Crown twice, hav­ing over­seen Amer­i­can Pharoah. James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons guided Gal- lant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935.

“It never gets old,” Baf­fert said. “Amer­i­can Pharoah, he’ll al­ways be my first love.”

At 52, Smith be­came the old­est jockey to win the Triple Crown. He cel­e­brated by grab­bing white car­na­tions from the win­ner’s blan­ket and toss­ing them in the air.

Smith and Jus­tify took a cur­tain call be­fore en­ter­ing the win­ner’s cir­cle. Back in New York where he dom­i­nated in the 1990s, Smith took Jus­tify on a walk past the packed grand­stand, soak­ing in the cheers and giv­ing the crowd a closer look at rac­ing’s new­est hero.

Jus­tify’s vic­tory gives rac­ing its sec­ond Triple Crown win­ner of the decade. The last time there were two Triple Crown cham­pi­ons in the same decade was the 1970s, which pro­duced Sec­re­tariat, Seat­tle Slew and Af­firmed.

Pur­chased for $ 500,000, Jus­tify earned $ 800,000 for his Belmont win, giv­ing him $ 3,798,000 in his brief ca­reer.

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.

On a fast, dry track, Jus­tify was just as good in his third race in five weeks at his third dif­fer­ent track.

Sent off as the 4- 5 fa­vorite, Jus­tify ran 11⁄ miles —

2 the long­est race of the se­ries — in 2: 28.18 and paid $ 3.60, $ 3.50 and $ 2.80.

“This horse ran a tre- men­dous race, he’s so gifted,” Smith said. “He’s sent from heaven. I tell you, it’s just amaz­ing.”

Baf­fert had fret­ted af­ter Jus­tify drew the No. 1 post, a spot he de­tests for his horses. But Smith turned it into an ad­van­tage, gun­ning Jus­tify to the lead and de­fy­ing any horse to chal­lenge.

Restor­ing Hope, also trained by Baf­fert, ran in­ter­fer­ence for the cham­pion while traveling sec­ond and de­ter­ring any threats by forc­ing them to go ex­tremely wide. No­body did.

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

“You can’t doubt him now, there’s no way,” said Bill Mott, trainer of third­place Hof­burg. “He did it right up on the pace, and ev­ery­body had an op­por­tu­nity to take their shot. They didn’t do it. They let it go too easy.”

There were mild bids turn­ing for home. Vino Rosso made the most se­ri­ous move to get within a length but never threat­ened. Jus­tify pulled away down the 1,097- yard stretch in front of scream­ing fans with only 24- 1 shot Gronkowski pick­ing off a half­dozen ri­vals in tak­ing up the chase down the lane.

“My thought turn­ing for home was that he had a shot to get him if Jus­tify was vul­ner­a­ble at mile and a half,” said Chad Brown, who trains Gronkowski. “I thought maybe, be­cause I could see Gronkowski fly­ing, but he just couldn’t get to that horse.”

Peter Mor­gan / As­so­ci­ated Press

Jus­tify ( 1), with jockey Mike Smith up, crosses the fin­ish line ahead of Gronkowski ( 6), with jockey Jose Ortiz up, to win the 150th run­ning of the Belmont Stakes.

Peter Mor­gan / As­so­ci­ated Press

Jus­tify, with jockey Mike Smith up, crosses the fin­ish line to win the 150th run­ning of the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown on Satur­day in El­mont, N. Y.

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