THE extraordinary Justify roared to an imperious victory in the 15oth Belmont Stakes in the fading daylight of Saturday afternoon, becoming the 13th horse to win thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown and only the second in four decades.
The strapping chestnut colt with the white blaze running from his eyes to the tip of his nose, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, broke well out of the gate and went right to the front, leading from wire to wire and finishing in a time of 2:28.18 amid a deafening roar from the crowd of 90,327 at Belmont Park, the venerable race course just outside New York city limits.
Running from the unenviable No1 post, Justify galloped 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 and was never seriously challenged in the grueling one-and-a-half mile race, settling into an easy rhythm under a soft pace down the backstretch of the sprawling oval known as Big Sandy and coasting home as the delirious cheers from grandstand rose and rose again. The clean glimmer of his magnificent copper coat as he breezed through the wire stood in stark relief with the nine soiled foes he’d vanquished: quite literally, he left them in his dust.
“This horse ran a tremendous race,” said Smith, who at 52 is the oldest jockey to complete the rare sweep of America’s three most famous races. “He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing. I can’t describe the emotions going through my body right now.”
Baffert, 65, for so long intimately familiar with Triple Crown heartbreak after he was thwarted in the Belmont with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002), has now won the sport’s ultimate price twice in four years.
“It’s just amazing,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “It never gets old. American Pharoah, he’ll always be my first love, (but) Mike Smith, he deserves something like this.”