It was the most important race of the young colts life. And JUSTIFY ran free in the Belmont Stakes- he liberated himself from the other nine runners as he went wire to wire and was never seriously threatened. He was paroled of the fatigue and misfortune that put to ruin many a Triple Crown attempt prior to his. Also gone was the pressure of the 2015 Triple Crown bid that saddled AMERICAN PHAROAH as 37 years of Triple Crown disappointment were along for the ride that day. Saturday was forty-five years to the day that another big chestnut horse named SECRETARIAT swept through the Triple Crown series and won the Belmont Stakes by a staggering 31 lengths! JUSTIFY carved out his own piece of history as did the humans who nurtured him.
Bob Baffert became only the second trainer in the history of the series to win two Triple Crowns. The first was “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons in the 1930’s when he won with GALLANT FOX and OMAHA. The win not only gave Baffert his second career Triple Crown it was also his 15th win in Triple Crown races, (Kentucky Derby-5, Preakness-7, Belmont-3) putting him on top of that category, one victory ahead of D. Wayne Lukas. ‘The Baff’ has had three previous TC bids fall short (1998 REAL QUIET, 1997 SILVER CHARM, 2002 WAR EMBLEM), but now the silver-haired horse whisperer has won two Triple Crown’s in the last four years. When asked to compare his pair of TC winners, he wouldn’t take the bait. He hedged, claiming that would be like comparing his children.
Jockey Mike Smith had no such conflict when he was asked to compare JUSTIFY to AMERICAN PHAROAH; “I think he’s the greatest of all time, I just won the Triple Crown, man. He’s my champion.” At the age of 52 Smith became the oldest jockey to be aboard a TC winner, and the joy of the accomplishment was written all over his face. His mid-life riding renaissance can be attributed to his faith, as well as a devotion to the weight room, cross-training and running. From the neck down “Big Money” Mike appears like someone half his age. Neck up he has the look of someone who is comfortable with where he is in life, and knows that the trials and tribulations he has endured in this sport have shaped him into the person he is today. Which here at DRB makes Mike Smith easy to root for.
JUSTIFY was simply an over-powering race horse at Belmont, running his race, and would not be denied his chance at greatness. On this Saturday at Belmont, a mere 111 days into his competitive racing campaign, he became the 13th Triple Crown winner. Congrats to everyone involved with him.