Justify Wins the Triple Crown
With a white blaze, a sweeping stride and an unblemished record, Justify came to the site where Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought and, guided by the same trainer, took his shot at history.
Ridden by the 52-year-old ironman Mike Smith, Justify did not disappoint the captivated crowd as he went to the lead and stayed, despite a pack of nine contenders closing in behind him, to capture the 150th Belmont Stakes and become the 13th Triple Crown winner.
Justify completed the mile and a half on a fast track in 2 minutes 28.18 seconds to become the second undefeated Triple Crown champion, along with Seattle Slew in 1977, and to reward his backers with $3.60 on a $2 bet to win. Gronkowski, in a bit of a surprise, finished second (and paid $13.80 to place), while Hofburg was third.
After the race, Smith and Justify went off by themselves around the clubhouse turn to have a quiet moment. Smith, who has earned the nickname Big Money Mike but had never won horse racing’s most coveted prize, was moved to tears.
He had to gather himself because he wanted to bring Justify back to the fans, who stood and cheered and snapped pictures as he took a victory lap past the expansive Belmont Park grandstand. It was not quite 2015, but that mattered little to Justify’s team.
“This horse ran a tremendous race,” Smith said while flashing a wide grin. “He’s so gifted; he was sent from heaven. I can’t even begin to describe my emotions right now.”
Bob Baffert, 65, Justify’s trainer, kept his composure as he walked to the winner’s circle, stopping to pat Ron Turcotte, the jockey for Secretariat, the ninth Triple Crown champion, on the back.
“American Pharoah will always be my first love, but, man, for this horse to do it,” Baffert said, adding later: “This horse never had a break. It was like getting a quarter horse ready to run week after week.”