Justify Wires Belmont to Become 13th Triple Crown Winner

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11th at BEL, $1,500,000GI Belmont S. (1 1/2m)Winner: Justify, c, 3 by Scat Daddy

Justify | Sarah K. Andrew

By Steve Sherack

ELMONT, NY – After American Pharoah finally ended the 37-year drought with his historic Triple Crown run just three years ago, was there any less hype or excitement surrounding the unbeaten Justify (Scat Daddy) as headed into this year’s GI Belmont Stakes seeking to become racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner?

That question was answered with an enormous exclamation point when the big red horse with the white blaze kicked for home in command on a beautiful late Saturday afternoon on Long Island as the capacity crowd of 90,327-many sporting gold foam crowns in support-roared so loud that you felt the building shake.

The ‘TDN Rising Star’ led them every step of the way and had 1 3/4 lengths to spare over European invader Gronkowski (Lonhro {Aus}), who rallied smartly from last of 10, to finish a very good second. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to GI Florida Derby runner-up Hofburg (Tapit) in third.

Hall of Famer Bob Baffert joins “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons as the only two trainers to campaign multiple Triple Crown winners. Baffert now stands alone for the most victories by a trainer in Triple Crown races with 15.

“It’s amazing,” Baffert said. “It never gets old. American Pharoah, he’ll always be my first love. [Justify] 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.”

Baffert continued, “I got very emotional, because I really think I’m getting help upstairs. I think of my parents, I think of all the good friends I’ve lost, and I know they’re up there–I really believe in that, that they’re helping me out, they’re giving me that little push. I think things happen for a reason. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be. I knew this horse was doing well. We had him ready, but that horse, it was just–just to train a horse like that, he’s just a magnificent animal. I’m just glad that I got a chance to train a horse like that.”

Unlike Justify’s wins in the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. over extremely sloppy conditions, the weather was picture perfect Saturday and this marked his first time racing on a fast track since his GI Santa Anita Derby tally in April. Justify, a well-documented unraced at two and a blowout debut maiden at Santa Anita Feb. 18, joined the brilliant Seattle Slew–also a wire-to-wire Belmont winner in 1977–as the only undefeated winners of the Triple Crown. Justify is now six-for-six.

With the placard sporting the China Horse Club red-and-yellow silks already in place on the Belmont infield shortly after the timer read 2:28.18 for 1 1/2 miles, Justify joins fellow Triple Crown winners Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978) and American Pharoah (2015).

Justify, a $500,000 KEESEP yearling purchase, is campaigned in partnership by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing LLC, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing. He was bred in Kentucky by John D. Gunther.

“It was such a blessing, and just thinking about winning the Triple Crown, and it’s just unbelievable,” WinStar’s Kenny Troutt said. “And then seeing him down that stretch, I mean, I was yelling and screaming, I went crazy down that stretch. It was a great blessing.”

China Horse Club’s Teo Ah Khing added, “As I said in the Preakness, the Lord opens the doors, and the doors opened. We are thankful for everybody here and the media and all our friends and especially our partners that we have. We treasure them. As you know, there are about 20 of our members here watching probably at the corridor, and they are on Cloud Nine, and so am I.”

They’re Off in the Belmont Stakes…

Justify, off as the 4-5 favorite, jumped well from his rail draw and quickly showed the way passing the raucous grandstand for the first time. His Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Restoring Hope (Giant’s Causeway) left the stalls running as well, but after taking the clubhouse turn about four wide and racing under a tight hold, Justify held a narrow advantage through an opening quarter in a swift :23.37.

Hall of Famer Mike Smith was able to slow things down from there, as Justify clicked off a half-mile in :48.11 and six furlongs in 1:13.21. Smith, already a two-time winner of the Belmont aboard Drosselmeyer (2010) and Palace Malice (2013), let it out a notch as the Gary and Mary West colorbearer began to back out of it entering the far turn, but there were some threats looming.

Vino Rosso, winner of the GII Wood Memorial S., made the first move, cutting into Justify’s advantage at the top of the stretch. Hofburg, widest of all, and the rail-skimming Gronkowski, both began to wind up from the back with flashy runs, too, and the stage was set.

Justify apparently had other ideas though. He switched leads right on cue, and, after a few taps of Smith’s whip, the outcome was never in doubt.

“This horse ran a tremendous race,” Smith said. “He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing. He [was] standing so still [in the starting gate], I actually thought, ‘He’s not going to break today.’ I mean, he left there like he was going 440 yards in Ruidoso, New Mexico.”

What They’re Saying at the Belmont…

“I’m really proud of my horse. The horse ran a great race. I think in each race I had the second-best horse and that’s the way it went. That’s the end of the story. Justify is a top horse and he won the Triple Crown, and that’s what horse racing is all about. You’ve got to run against everybody and it only takes one good one to beat you. To come so close in the Triple Crown…but we ran into a real buzz saw.” –Chad Brown, trainer of runner-up Gronkowski

“You can’t doubt [Justify] now, there’s no way. You’ve got to give him credit. He did it right up on the pace, and everybody had an opportunity to take their shot. They didn’t do it today. They let it go too easy. I thought at the quarter-pole, our horse was moving and we wanted to be close at the quarter-pole and we did get into position and made a run, but the speed wasn’t coming back. They went too slow.” –Bill Mott, trainer of third-place finisher Hofburg

“I made a premature run to see if I could get there. It wasn’t enough.” –John Velazquez, jockey aboard fourth-place finisher Vino Rosso

“I thought Vino Rosso ran well. Johnny [Velazquez] felt like he needed to move a little earlier than he really wanted to because there were pretty soft fractions up front. He felt like if he was going to have any chance he had to go a little sooner than he wanted to and thought that may have compromised his finish a little bit.

“Noble Indy didn’t behave great in the paddock. He got a little bit anxious in the post parade but none of the race went as we wanted it to go. We wanted to get away from the gate, get involved early to be close to the pace. He didn’t break great. He broke out a little bit, and basically Javier [Castellano] decided he was going to something different than we set out to do and the horse didn’t’ respond very well.” –Todd Pletcher, trainer of Vino Rosso and 10th place finisher Noble Indy

“We were fifth. Justify, God bless. A Triple Crown winner. Good for him.” –Steve Asmussen, trainer of fifth-place finisher Tenfold

“It was a monster race. It’s a great honor to be a part of it. The noise from the crowd out front was shaking this building. It was incredible. It’s nice to be a part of something special.” –Dale Romans, trainer of seventh-place finisher Free Drop Billy

“Congratulations to Justify on becoming Thoroughbred racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner and further congratulations to his ownership connections, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Mike Smith for their superb management and handling of this extraordinary athlete. This achievement elevates Justify into the pantheon of America’s all-time greatest Thoroughbreds. A Triple Crown winner is rare enough; an undefeated Triple Crown winner is rarer still.” –Alex Waldrop, NTRA President & CEO

Saturday, Belmont Park
BELMONT S. PRESENTED BY NYRA BETS-GI, $1,500,000, Belmont, 6-9, 3yo, 1 1/2m, 2:28.18, ft.
1–JUSTIFY, 126, c, 3, by Scat Daddy
                1st Dam: Stage Magic (GSP, $133,981), by Ghostzapper
                2nd Dam: Magical Illusion, by Pulpit
                3rd Dam: Voodoo Lily, by Baldski
‘TDN Rising Star’. ($500,000 Ylg ’16 KEESEP). O-China Horse
Club International Ltd., WinStar Farm, Starlight Racing, Head of
Plains Partners LLC; B-John D. Gunther (KY); T-Bob Baffert;
J-Mike E. Smith. $800,000. Lifetime Record: 6-6-0-0,
$3,798,000. *1/2 to The Lieutenant (Street Sense), GSW,
$209,537. Werk Nick Rating: A++. Click for the
   eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.2–Gronkowski, 126, c, 3, Lonhro (Aus)–Four Sugars, by Lookin
At Lucky. ($75,000 Wlg ’15 KEENOV; 50,000gns Ylg ’16
TATOCT; 300,000gns 2yo ’17 TATBRE). O-Phoenix
Thoroughbred III; B-Epic Thoroughbreds Llc (KY); T-Chad C.
Brown. $280,000.3–Hofburg, 126, c, 3, Tapit–Soothing Touch, by Touch Gold.
O/B-Juddmonte Farms, Inc. (KY); T-William I. Mott. $150,000.
Margins: 1 3/4, 1 3/4, NK. Odds: 0.80, 24.75, 5.20.
Also Ran: Vino Rosso, Tenfold, Bravazo, Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope, Blended Citizen, Noble Indy.
Click for the Equineline.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. NBC HD Replay.

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