Jockey Mike Smith celebrates atop of Justify #1 the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 9, 2018 in Elmont, New York.
Smith, at 52-years-old, made history in the process by becoming the oldest jockey in history to win the Triple Crown.
Two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Justify emerged from a fog bank with the lead at the top of the stretch but just did manage to hold on to the advantage, winning by 1/2 length over Bravazo, who faded in the late going in the Belmont and did finished sixth.
It would be hard to imagine Justify running again before July 29 in the Haskell, a race Baffert has won eight times. The only other unbeaten Triple Crown victor was Seattle Slew in 1977.
Justify also reached his high value at record speeds considering his first start was only 111 days ago on February 18. Prior to American Pharoah’s triumph, the drought between Triple Crown winners had been on unprecedented 37 years, when Affirmed bested Alydar in all three Triple Crown races in 1978. “It never gets old”, said Baffert, who admitted American Pharoah would always be his first love.
But Baffert also called Justify one of the all-time greats.
Baffert is only the second trainer in the sport’s history to win the Triple Crown twice. This time, we’re just looking back to a time when Barack Obama was still President and Donald Trump was not yet a candidate for President. “I told him “welcome to the club”. The inaugural victor was a New York-bred filly named Ruthless.
Baffert took American Pharoah to Saratoga in August 2015 and the Triple Crown victor was upset by Keen Ice in the Travers.
The reality is the race Gronkowski ran would win quite a few Belmonts, even though the third leg of the Triple Crown is thought to be unkind to deep closers and hasn’t produced a last-to-first victor since Jazil in 2006. As far as this horse goes, one of the things that I thought was important was we’re behind the 8-ball.
“Bob has helped me achieve so many of my dreams”, Smith said.
Should he win, he will be only the second undefeated horse to complete the triple crown, joining Seattle Slew (1977).
The Triple Crown is the rarest of all feats on the North American sports ledger.
Baffert told NBC Sports: “It’s just wonderful”.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way he looks”, Baffert said. He didn’t compete as a 2-year-old.
Baffert joined Fitzsimmons as the only trainers to oversee two Triple Crown winners.
Jockey Jose Ortiz rode the rail through the final turn of the 1 1/2-mile test, angled out, and loomed behind Justify, ready to break plenty of hearts.
Smith says Justify is both smart and in great shape.
Justify opened his bid with a 2 ½-length victory on a sloppy track in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 5.
“To do what he did in such a short time is incredible”, Smith said of Justify.
Wallace was still pinching himself hours after the race as the team around Justify set out to celebrate the unique achievement.