With a breathtaking wire-to-wire run under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, undefeated Justify became racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner on Saturday at Belmont Park, sweeping to a 1 ¾-length victory over Gronkowski to add the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes to his triumphs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
The victory over Belmont Park’s sweeping 1 ½-mile oval was the sixth straight for Justify, who joined Seattle Slew – also a wire-to-wire Belmont winner in 1977 – as the only undefeated winners of the Triple Crown. Seattle Slew (Bold Reasoning) features in the pedigree of Justify through his dam Stage Magic (Ghostzapper).
All six of the rangy chestnut colt’s wins have come in 2018, beginning with a maiden victory on February 18 at Santa Anita Park and culminating just shy of 16 weeks later in the Belmont.
“This horse ran a tremendous race,” said Smith, who at 52 is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. “He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing.”
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners, Justify led from wire-to-wire in the Belmont to defeat Gronkowski (Lonhro) by just on two lengths with Hofburg (Tapit) back in third. Smith sported the red-and-gold silks of China Horse Club after having worn the white-and-green colors of WinStar Farm in the Derby and Preakness.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Justify was bought at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for the China Horse Club & Maverick Racing for $500,000 by their buying team that consists of New Zealand bloodstock agent Mike Wallace, the China Horse Club’s racing and bloodstock manager, along with Mick Flanagan and Tom Ryan of SF Bloodstock.
It was the second Triple Crown for Baffert who broke a 37-year hoodoo with American Pharoah (Pioneer Of The Nile) in 2015 who became the first horse since Affirmed (Exclusive Native) in 1978 to take out the Triple Crown.
“I wanted to see that horse’s name up there because we know he was brilliant from Day 1,” Baffert said. “And I am so happy for Mike Smith. There is no more deserving (jockey) than him.”
Baffert became the second trainer along with “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons to train two Triple Crown winners, with Fitzsimmons having conditioned Gallant Fox (1930) and his son, Omaha (1935). Other Triple Crown winners include Sir Barton (1919), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948) and Secretariat (1973).
“It’s amazing,” said Baffert, who had Triple Crown near-misses with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002). “It never gets old. American Pharoah, he’ll always be my first love.
“[This horse] was showing me the same signs [as American Pharoah], he showed me that same brilliance. Superior horse. I mean, he could have won every race on the undercard today. He’s just that kind of horse.”
Wallace was still pinching himself hours after the race as the team around Justify set out to celebrate the unique achievement.
“It is such a surreal feeling and one that I’m still trying to take in,” he said.
“The crowd was in excess of 100,000 so the noise was unbelievable and when they started to roar as he got near the finish it just got even louder.
“After the race so many people wanted to shake your hand and congratulate you. It’s an experience I will never forget and will be hard to top in the future.
“To become just the 13th winner of the Triple Crown is amazing and even more special is the fact that he is only the second Triple Crown winner to be bought at public auction after Seattle Slew in 1977.”
The son of Scat Daddy will take a week or so off before his connections decide what is next for the three-year-old.
Justify has won all six of his career starts, four at Grade One level. Remarkably, Justify did not have his first start until February 18th this year and has quickly become the pin-up horse of American racing.
Justify earned $800,000 for his Belmont win and boosted his bankroll to $3,798,000.
Completing the order of finish after Vino Rosso were Tenfold, Bravazo, Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope, Blended Citizen and Noble Indy.
Reporting: NZ Thoroughbred Marketing, Jenny Kellner