Triple Crown

Jus­tify leads all the way to be­come the 13th horse to earn the

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

Jus­tify (right) stayed in front of the muck at the Bel­mont Stakes to be­come horse rac­ing’s 13th Triple Crown cham­pion and sec­ond in four years.

The chest­nut colt is the sec­ond un­de­feated colt to sweep the Ken­tucky Derby, Preak­ness and Bel­mont, im­prov­ing to 6-0 in a rac­ing ca­reer that be­gan on Feb. 18. Seat­tle Slew was un­beaten when he won the Triple Crown in 1977.

Sent off as the 4-5 fa­vorite, Jus­tify be­came the first Triple Crown win­ner to face at least nine ri­vals in the 1½mile Bel­mont. And Bob Baf­fert be­came the sec­ond trainer to win the Triple Crown twice.

NEW YORK — Jus­tify led all the way to achieve Triple Crown im­mor­tal­ity.

The late bloomer won the Bel­mont Stakes by 1¾ lengths on Satur­day, giv­ing the sport its 13th Triple Crown cham­pion. Amer­i­can Pharoah ended a 37year drought in 2015 and three 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 burst onto the na­tional scene with a 2½-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.

“The raw tal­ent is there,” Baf­fert said. “He just came on there and broke ev­ery curse there was. It was meant to be.”

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.

Jus­tify led wire to wire to achieve one of the sports world’s tough­est feats 45 years to the day that Sec­re­tariat won the Bel­mont by a record 31 lengths. Baf­fert called Jus­tify one of the all­time greats.

“I think he’s the great­est of all time,” Smith said. “I just won the Triple Crown, man. He’s my cham­pion.”

Jus­tify ac­com­plished a lot in a 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 Gal­lant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935.

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

Smith, 52, 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.

“He just puts an old man out there to sit still, who stays out of the way and lets a good horse be a good horse,” Smith said, cred­it­ing Baf­fert for us­ing him.

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 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 track.

Sent off as the 4-5 fa­vorite, Jus­tify ran 1½ miles — the long­est race of the se­ries — in 2:28.18 and paid $3.60, $3.50 and $2.80.

“This horse ran a tremen­dous

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 with only 24-1 shot Gronkowski pick­ing off a half-dozen 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.

Gronkowski, named for and partly owned by New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots tight end Rob Gronkowski, re­turned $13.80 and $7 in his U.S. de­but af­ter ar­riv­ing from Eng­land.

Hof­burg paid $3.70 to show.

Vino Rosso fin­ished fourth, fol­lowed by Ten­fold, Bravazo, Free Drop Billy, Restor­ing Hope, Blended Ci­ti­zen and No­ble Indy.


Jus­tify, the 4-5 fa­vorite rid­den by Mike Smith, crosses the fin­ish line to win the 150th run­ning of the Bel­mont Stakes to com­plete the Triple Crown and im­prove his record to 6-0, all in races since Feb. 18. Smith, 52, be­came the old­est jockey to win the Triple Crown.

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