June 23, 2018

Belmont Stakes: Justify wins Belmont to earn 13th Triple Crown in history

12 June 2018, 08:33 | Joan Schultz

Al Bello Getty Images

Al Bello  Getty Images

Justify made all the running under Mike Smith to win the Belmont Stakes and become the 13th horse to complete the Triple Crown on Sunday morning (AEST).

Hall of Fame jockey Smith - the oldest rider to win the Triple Crown - said: "This horse is so gifted".

Gronkowski, named for the National Football League player, finished second, after having been last for the first half of the race.

Daina Palkovics, of Sayreville, N.J. walks through the Belmont Park grounds before the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Elmont, N.Y.

Justify is taking on nine rivals, the largest number that a potential Triple Crown victor has ever faced.

Justify is 5-0 in a career that began with his first race in February. In fact, between American Pharoah's 2015 victory and Affirmed's Triple Crown in 1978, 13 horses took the first two races before losing the Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Bob Baffert was overcome with emotion when discussing his second Triple Crown victor.

Last year, Baffert won four races with Mor Spirit (Metropolitan Handicap), Abel Tasman (Acorn), American Anthem (Woody Stephens) and West Coast (Easy Goer). Baffert, head turned, watched his handiwork in HD with a small smile that refused go away. "He looked like a very good horse and we hired a very good trainer, maybe the greatest of all time".

"To make history like this is just an incredible feeling", said WinStar CEO Elliott Walden, who in his previous life as a trainer spoiled Baffert's attempt at a Triple Crown in 1998 when Victory Gallop beat Real Quiet. He's just an unbelievable horse.

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"I think my mother's happy now", Smith said. "His disposition's fantastic", Smith told the New York Post.

Still, Baffert sees similarities between American Pharoah and Justify, he told the AP. Horse racing's latest superstar will attempt to become the 13th Triple Crown victor in U.S. Thoroughbred racing and he has a great chance to accomplish the feat.

"Our focus was on each race as it came up, and now we can take a deep breath and just see how the horse is, " Walden said.

"Bob has helped me achieve so many of my dreams", Smith said. Add in the tight schedule of three championship races in five weeks, and it's the most challenging of tasks for any horse.

The muscular horse is 1,268 pounds, more than 100 pounds more than American Pharoah, the Baffert-trained horse that won the Triple Crown in 2015, and stands at 16.3 hands high, slightly taller than American Pharoah. Other Triple Crown winners include Sir Barton (1919), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948) and Secretariat (1973).

Justify would break well again, taking the lead along the inside rails. Baffert then threw him right into the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, which he won by 3 lengths. He didn't compete as a 2-year-old.

Smith, 52, is the second-oldest Kentucky Derby victor behind Bill Shoemaker, who rode Ferdinand to victory in 1986 at age 54. "He's now become a household name and I'm looking forward to his next race as much as you guys are", he said.

"Smith said that when he's mounted on his horse, he follows God just as he normally would". A bad start could compromise his race plan.

Trainer Todd Pletcher also has two horses in the field - 8-1 Vino Rosso and 30-1 Noble Indy.

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