Big-Money Mike hopeful Triple Crown glory awaits star Justify
A dream return to Royal Ascot may not be forthcoming for US Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith but all his attention is focused on a spot of history making this weekend. It might well be justified.
The small matter of a Triple Crown bid will be decided in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday when Smith rides the best from the west – Justify. The colt join greats like Secretariat and American Pharoah by becoming the 13th horse to land all three legs of what is regarded in the US as the ultimate test of the thoroughbred.
It is no mean feat for a three-year-old to run in three Grade 1s in five weeks. To win all three would be remarkable, even more so for a colt whose career began only in February.
Bob Baffert’s stable star was imperious when dominating in the Kentucky Derby but more workmanlike when holding off late challengers in the Preakness Stakes. The stage is now set for crowning glory.
Smith, 52, and full of effervescence, told the Racing Post: “I’m as hopeful as I could possibly be. I’m very excited about Saturday – I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to go for the Triple Crown on this fantastic horse and I want to make the most of it.
“To go for a Triple Crown is incredible, and so tough to pull off, but this is the kind of horse that's got the required talent. He’s got the ability, there’s no doubting that. He’s by far the best three-year-old I’ve been involved with.
“He’s just really good at everything. He’s naturally quick, he’s got a high cruising speed, he’s fast away at the start. He’s big, fast and strong with great stamina – he just seems to stay and stay and never gives up.
“We saw the other day he can look another horse in the eye and get into a dogfight and keep on running, which is something he hadn’t needed to do before, so that was nice to see. The great thing about him is he’s got a great disposition and mind which goes along with it all.”
Disposition and mind can be half the battle. Justify has the imposing frame of a heavyweight champion to match, although it can be deceptive – he’s more of a gentle giant.
Smith, christened 'Big-Money Mike' for his dependability on the big occasion, said: “He’s a pretty cool character. He takes it all in his stride. He’s pretty laid-back at home but on raceday when he’s in the parade he gets on his toes just enough to give me confidence that he’s on his A game.”
Around 90,000 racegoers will pack the stands at Belmont and Smith believes there are several dangers to Justify’s bid for greatness in the $1.5 million race, for which the unbeaten colt is a best price 5-6 favourite with Sky Bet.
Smith said: “If they do way too much early, it will suit Hofburg, who’s a really nice horse and was seventh in the Kentucky Derby after a lot of trouble early on.
“He’s a horse that could run well, as is Bravazo, who was second in the Preakness, and Vino Rosso, who will love the distance. It’s a tough bunch of three-year-olds this year.”
The all-time leading Breeders’ Cup jockey said: “I’m towards the back end of my career so to be able to go out with a Triple Crown success would just be incredible.”
Smith paused to contemplate what potentially awaits on Saturday.
He added: “Wow, what a way to run off into the sunset that would be.”
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