Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner when he claimed the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes in a wire-to-wire victory under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, on Saturday at Belmont Park.
The three-year-old colt, bred by British Columbia’s John Gunther, entered the Grade 1, $1.5 million race undefeated, and sped to a convincing 1 ¾-length win over runner up, Gronkowski.
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. All six of his wins have come in 2018, beginning with a maiden victory on February 18th 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.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who saddled American Pharoah to end a 37-year-old Triple Crown drought in 2015, thus 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). “[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.”
Smith, who won his third Belmont to go with those in 2010 (Drosselmeyer) and 2013 (Palace Malice), sent Justify straight to the lead from the No. 1 post, which since 1905 has produced 24 winners of the Belmont, the most of any post position.
The big colt took command before the first turn, settling into a comfortable rhythm as stablemate Restoring Hope and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Bravazo kept him in their sights. Galloping through fractions of 23.37 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 48.11 for the half, 1:13.21 for three quarters and 1:38.09 for the mile, Justify entered the far turn without having been asked for run, still two lengths clear of his stablemate and closest rival, with Bravazo hanging on in third.
Approaching the quarter pole, with the crowd on its feet and screaming, Gronkowski was hitting his best stride from far back, picking off a half-dozen rivals to gain third even as Vino Rosso was moving into second. Once in the stretch, however, Justify continued to roll along, giving no signs of quitting, and Gronkowski had to settle for second, with second choice Hofburg coming on to edge Vino Rosso by a neck for show.
Completing the order of finish after Vino Rosso were Tenfold, Bravazo, Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope, Blended Citizen and Noble Indy.
Justify’s winning time was 2:28.18 for the 1 ½ miles over a track rated fast, unlike his two previous wins, which came over sloppy tracks at Churchill Downs and Pimlico.
In addition to the three Triple Crown races, Justify’s resume includes his maiden win, an optional claiming victory, and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, all with a combined winning margin of 23 ¾ lengths.
Owned in partnership by China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners, Justify earned $800,000 for the win and boosted his bankroll to $3,798,000.
Following the race, Justify was shipped to Churchill Downs, where is expected to arrive Monday morning for the start of a short break before his team decides where to showcase him next. “We’ll take a deep breath and see where we are,” said Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar. “[Bob] will get Justify right and then we’ll make a plan. We’re looking forward to sharing him more. He’s become a household name and I’m looking forward to his next race as much as [everyone else].”
The Belmont Stakes Day card generated an all-sources handle of $137,954,895 – the second-highest in one day New York Racing Association History behind Belmont Stakes Day in 2014. The on-track handle was $16,159,584, with 90,327 people in attendance. All-sources wagering on the 150th Belmont Stakes alone was $72,702,815, with an on-track handle of $6,884,907.