Justify completes Triple Crown dream at Belmont Park

ImageJustify ridden by Mike Smith began his Triple Crown bid by winning the Kentucky Derby on May

ImageJustify ridden by Mike Smith began his Triple Crown bid by winning the Kentucky Derby on May

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, in a photo finish) and War Emblem (2002), has now won the sport's ultimate price twice in four years. He's the first Triple Crown victor to face that many rivals in the 1½-mile Belmont. James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons guided Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935. Restoring Hope, who like Justify is trained by Baffert, last ran May 5 but not in the Derby.

Justify is taking on nine rivals, the largest number that a potential Triple Crown victor has ever faced. "He's sent from heaven".

The fates seemed to line up against Justify as he sought to become the 13 horse in history to win the Triple Crown. Justify, as with American Pharoah, stabled in Louisville between legs of the Triple Crown and followed a similar training schedule as his predeccesor.

First, he won the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old.

Smith, 52, became the oldest jockey to win a Triple Crown.

Bravazo finished second in the Preakness and Hofburg was sired by Tapit, whose sons have won two of the last races in the Belmont, which is run at a 1 1/2 mile.

"This never gets old", an emotional Baffert said after the race.

Justify drew the No. 1 post, and while that would have been an issue in the crowded 20-horse field at Churchill Downs, it was not a problem at Belmont Park. Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed added their names to the list in the 1970s. "When he was that far back early, I said to myself, 'This is not going to end well.' He's just so far back, and there are quality horses in front of him, and then I saw the fractions and said, 'How is this horse going to close?'". At the inaugural Belmont Stakes, which took place in 1867 at Jerome Park Racetrack in New York City, the owner of the winning horse took home a prize of $1,850 and an English riding saddle.

Being that valuable might make it hard for the horse to get back on the track again, though ownership seemed optimistic after the win that it was possible.

The two Todd Pletcher-trained racers, Vino Rosso (+900) and Noble Indy (+2800), will break side-by-side from gates 8 and 9 respectively.

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