Justify captures Triple Crown, wins Belmont

Justify captures Triple Crown, wins Belmont

He's re-writing the history books.

"This never gets old", an emotional Baffert said after the race. Then he overcame a speed duel to just hold on in the Preakness Stakes.

In winning the Kentucky Derby, Justify had lifted the so-called "curse of Apollo" in becoming the first horse since 1882 to win without having run as a two-year-old.

The first horse to load in the gate, Justify stayed so still and steady as the other nine followed suit that Smith anxious for a moment that he might not break at all. Seattle Slew was also undefeated when he won the Triple Crown in 1977.

Now Smith, 52 years young, was asking Justify to give him the kind of everlasting fulfillment American Pharoah had given Espinoza and trainer Bob Baffert, even if he didn't need to justify his lofty stature in the sport.

Always Dreaming has one leg down and two more to go. "I'm really glad for him".

Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah to a Triple Crown, did a television commercial leading up the Triple Crown races this year.

In the hours before the race, Justify rested in Belmont's Barn 1, across the street from a Wendy's, undistracted by the beer-soaked fans who reveled close by - including one who almost relieved himself on a tree. Breaking from the less-than-desired No. 1 post, Smith gunned Justify to the lead and never looked back.

Baffert was a little nervous after the first quarter-mile when Justify went out fast.

"Like the song says, 'If you can make it in NY, you can make it anywhere, ' " Smith said and smiled. Behind those three, Noble Indy, Vino Rosso and Tenfold were stalking the leader, while the relatively unknown Gronkowski was initially last of the 10-horse field.

Justify achieved one of the sports' toughest feats 45 years to the day that Secretariat won the Belmont by a record 31 lengths.

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It wasn't second choice Hofburg, the trendy pick to play upsetter.

The effort was enough to inspire optimism, however.

Gronkowski (No. 6) was very slow out of the gate, fixed at the back of the pack for half of the race, but roared back to finish just behind the wire-to-wire champion.

The 24-1 long-shot Gronkowski battled from the back of the pack to cross the line second, nearly two lengths behind Justify, while the 5-1 Hofburg finished third amid overcast but dry conditions.

"He listens to me", Smith said. "When i asked him, he dug in".

The mating with Scat Daddy, who stood for a bargain fee of $30,000 when Justify was conceived, was the idea of Gunther's daughter, Tanya. The final time for 1 1/2 miles was 2:28 and change.

" target="_blank">WinStar Farm for his early education under saddle". The next year, the classic rivalry of Affirmed and Alydar reached its peak when Affirmed inched ahead by a head to become the last Triple Crown victor until Pharoah arrived. Two weeks later, his shortest time between races, he captured the Preakness. Finally, he was sent across the country to Baffert's stable, making his first start on February 18 of this year.

Bob Baffert, the trainer of Justify and American Pharoah, said "Mike Smith, he deserves something like this". The colt has earned over $3.8 million.

"I wanted to see that horse's name up there (with the other greats) because we know he was brilliant from day one", Baffert said.

"I really didn't think about that", Baffert said. "My (late) parents are helping me and friends I've lost".

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