True champion: Justify secures Triple Crown by triumphing in Belmont Stakes
It took just four months for Justify to go from insignificance to immortality.
Few outside the Bob Baffert barn had heard of Justify before February 18, when he made his debut at Santa Anita. However, on the second Saturday of June his legacy was assured through a comfortable one-and-three-quarter-length victory in the Belmont Stakes that secured the Triple Crown.
In adding the Belmont to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Justify became the 13th horse to achieve the most coveted prize in American racing. It had been only 36 months since the title had previously been won, but the fact it had been 37 years prior to American Pharoah's success underlines the enormity of the feat.
TRIPLE CROWN WINNERS
Sir Barton (1919)
Gallant Fox (1930)
War Admiral (1937)
Count Fleet (1943)
Seattle Slew (1977)
American Pharoah (2015)
Baffert also charted American Pharoah's route to the top. However, that champion had a preparation nothing like so unusual as Justify's.
In winning the Kentucky Derby Justify lifted the so-called 'curse of Apollo' to become the first horse since 1882 to win without having run as a two-year-old. He then battled through the slop to win the Preakness Stakes and set up his bid for American racing's Holy Grail.
Whether the son of Scat Daddy had the stamina for the mile and a half of the Belmont was the big question, but Mike Smith, who was winning the Triple Crown for the first time, was able to cut out the fractions he wanted from the front and Justify was not hard pushed to extend his unbeaten run to six.
Gronkowski, making his first start for Chad Brown having formerly been trained in Britain by Jeremy Noseda, gave valiant chase and briefly looked a danger turning in, but Justify saw things out strongly. Hofburg, who was considered the chief danger to the 4-5 favourite, was a never-threatening third.
Smith said: "This horse is so gifted – he's sent from heaven. I can't describe the emotions going through my body right now.
"He's brilliant. He was so still in the gate I thought he might not break but he left so fast it was like he was going to go 440 yards!
"Bob has made a lot of my goals come true but today he made my dreams come true."
“My name is Justify. I make history. How are you?” pic.twitter.com/5wnHKNuvbO— Alicia Wincze Hughes (@BH_AHughes) June 10, 2018
Baffert was quick to pay tribute to the 52-year-old rider and said: "I'm so happy for Mike Smith, there's no one more deserving than him."
On Smith finally achieving the Triple Crown dream, Baffert added: "I told Mike, 'Welcome to the club'."
It was an impressive run from Gronkowski in second and his jockey Jose Ortiz said: "He broke a bit slow. He's a horse from England. After that, I didn't have any choice. I had to drop in and save all the ground. He handled the dirt. I worked him twice and he handled it, so I was optimistic."
How much will Justify be worth at stud?
Having become only the second unbeaten Triple Crown winner in history, Justify looks set to command a huge stud fee when the curtain comes down on his racing career..
The last Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, began covering duty at Coolmore’s Kentucky base at Ashford at $200,000, but with Justify boasting even more in vogue bloodlines – being from the penultimate crop of the much-missed Scat Daddy – an even higher starting point would seem a distinct possibility.
Should the unbeaten three-year-old begin life at stud at a fee of $250,000 – a sum that would still leave him a long way behind the likes of Galileo and Deep Impact – and cover 150 mares a season for his first four years, he stands to earn $150 million before his first runners even hit the track. And should he prove capable of passing on some of his immense talent, there is every reason to believe his fee could climb even higher still.
Also on Saturday
Belmont: Ogden Phipps Stakes (Grade 1) | 1m½f | 4yo+ | Fillies & Mares | Dirt
The silks of the China Horse Club, which Smith wore aboard Justify, had already been carried to victory by Abel Tasman (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith), who was slashed to 4-1 (from 10-1) with Paddy Power for the Breeders' Cup Distaff after she registered a seven-and-a-half-length success.
Abel Tasman finished runner-up to Forever Unbridled in last year's Distaff but had been disappointing on her return at Churchill.
Baffert said: "Her race at Churchill Downs was a disappointment. She didn't run well. You could tell today the light got turned on. She couldn't have looked any better coming into this race.
"She had a little slip at the break but then I could tell she was really on the bridle. When she went up there and made the lead on her own, it was good because she was running her race."
Belmont: Acorn Stakes (Grade 1) | 1m | 3yo Fillies| Dirt
Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl (Brad Cox/Florent Geroux) extended her unbeaten sequence with a comfortable two-length victory.
Monomoy Girl was making it four wins from as many starts this year and those who supported the odds-on favourite would have been on good terms with themselves on the turn for home as she loomed up menacingly.
Cox said: "I really thought she was going into this race every bit as well as she went into the Oaks, so we had a lot of confidence in her today.
"She's a classy filly, I was telling somebody early she takes some training, which means when you're breezing her you kind of have to let her do her thing. She's happy going fast, and I'm happy watching her go fast."
Belmont: Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap (Grade 1) | 1m | 3yo+ | Dirt
Bee Jersey (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana Jr) just held the determined late challenge of Mind Your Biscuits to prevail by a nose in a thrilling finish.
Bee Jersey was sent into the lead from his wide draw and always appeared to be going well, but he was forced to dig deep by the runner-up, who won the 6f Golden Shaheen at Meydan in March.
Asmussen said: "He's a fabulous miler. This was the goal with the horse at the beginning of the year and now I think we'll regroup from here and think of how to get him to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in the best condition."
Santana said: "He was in a great position and when I turned for home I let him go a little bit. He ran an amazing race. My horse is a fighter and he showed it today. He was waiting for the other horses and when my horse felt Mind Your Biscuits he took off again. He gave me a second kick to pass the wire first."
Belmont: Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (Grade 1) | 1m2f | 4yo+| Turf
Spring Quality (Graham Motion/Edgar Prado) got the better of a blanket finish to cause an 18-1 surprise.
Spring Quality was held up towards the rear and had plenty to do in the straight but responded well when hooked towards the centre of the course and got up in the final strides.
Motion said: "The one thing we had to do was save ground, that was the most important thing.
"We saved ground on the first turn and I loved where he was down the back. He's really special."
The Fozzy Stack-trained Alexios Komnenos weakened in the final furlong to finish 12th of the 13 runners, with favourite Beach Patrol last.
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