Justify Takes Belmont Stakes, Becomes 13th Triple Crown Horseracing Winner

Jockey Mike Smith celebrates aboard Justify after winning the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes the third leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing at Belmont Park in Elmont New York

Would Justify fall victim to the fatigue and bad luck that had marked 13 failed Triple Crown bids between 1978 and 2015?

The Belmont win follows Justify victories in the Kentucky Derby, a race in which he beat a sloppy track and became the first horse since 1882 to win the Derby without having raced as a two-year-old; and then came through with a narrow Preakness victory in the fog to set up today's final leg of the Triple Crown. Nor has he been known to take a knee before any of his races, although the musical tradition at Triple Crown events is different from National Football League games: "My Old Kentucky Home" at the Derby, "Maryland, My Maryland" at the Preakness and "New York, New York" at the Belmont.

Justify lined up for his maiden start at Santa Anita Park on February 18. The last time there were two Triple Crown champions in the same decade was the 1970s, which produced Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

The trainer said he anxious again when Justify made a move forward in the final turn. And he just came along himself. "It was meant to be".

Despite being the first undefeated Triple Crown victor since Seattle Slew in 1977, there's little expectation that Justify's victory will resonate the same way American Pharoah's did three years ago.

Baffert - who has won more Triple Crown races than anyone - complimented his team for helping the horse, which ran three major, testing races in five weeks.

From his tender heel the day after he won the Kentucky Derby to his exhausted performance in the Preakness to his starting position on the dreaded rail in the Belmont Stakes, he'd encountered obstacles that have defeated many an excellent horse.

Bob Baffert became the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice. Fitzsimmons won in 1930 with Gallant Fox and in 1935 with Omaha.

Baffert also trained Triple Crown victor American Pharoah in 2015.

"It never gets old", Baffert said. "American Pharoah, he'll always be my first love".

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"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.

The morning after the Belmont Stakes questions quickly turned to what's next for the newest Triple Crown victor.

"This horse ran a tremendous race, he's so gifted", said Mike Smith, who at 52 is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.

"We want to race him, at least through this year", he said Sunday. "He's sent from heaven".

'Justify's a freak, super horse, undefeated, fantastic what he's done, ' Repole told DFR. "I can't describe the emotions going through my body right now". A plan will be formulated once the chestnut colt recovers from a compressed schedule that saw him win six races over 111 days since his debut on February 18.

Both Justify and Restoring Hope were trained by Baffert, and the latter played a big role in Saturday's outcome by breaking out into second place and blocking other horses.

Justify defied the hard post position along the rail, breaking well and taking the lead within seconds.

Restoring Hope, with jockey Florent Geroux up, appeared to run interference for the champion on Saturday while traveling second and forcing would-be challengers to go extremely wide.

Smith got the colt into a relaxed rhythm under a moderate pace heading into the backstretch, and he had an easy trip from there. From his first race on February 18 and continuing on his unconventional path to the Kentucky Derby, he had done things so brilliantly, so easily, that no dream seemed too big.

Gronkowski, named for and partly owned by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, returned $13.80 and $7 in his USA debut after arriving from England. Justify pulled away down the 1,097-yard stretch in front of a grandstand packed with screaming fans with only 24-1 shot Gronkowski picking up the chase down the lane. Vino Rosso made the most serious move to get within a length but never threatened.

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