Mike Smith Looks To Be 13 With “Justify”

By Jason Gonzalez

It is apparent that history isn’t on the side of American jockey Mike Smith and his thoroughbred partner-in-crime, Justify. After winning the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness, Smith boards Justify once more, in hopes of achieving horse racing immortality in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes. Known as the “Race of Champions”, the third and final leg of the triple-crown jewel is a 1-1/2 mile grueling course that most fail to conquer. Should Smith and Justify reign supreme, they would become the 13th tandem to do so in 40 years.

Prior to Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah reaching the summit three years ago, previous horses such as War Emblem, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, and California Chrome merely flirted with history, but would eventually succumb to the hellish track.

Smith’s and Justify’s date with destiny will take place on Saturday, June 9, at Belmont Park in Elmont, Long Island. According to Belmont Park personnel, an anonymous source disclosed that there are expecting a crowd of about 90,000-strong. Smith, a veteran of great experience has previously posted “W’s” in each race before. But with that being said, it will be Smith’s first crack at the highly coveted prize.

13 years ago, the now 52-year-old Smith rode the 50-1 longshot, Giacomo, to victory at Churchill Downs. And back in 2010 and 2013, Smith crossed the finish-line 1st with Drosselmeyer and Palace Malice at the Belmont. Smith also has a prior win at Pimlico when he rode Prairie Bayou in 1993.

The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes are solely intended for 3-year-old horses. Each of the three races are different lengths, however, the punishing distance of the Belmont Stakes is so taxing for any race horse running for the third time within the span of 6 weeks. Conventional wisdom would encourage someone to ask, what does Justify have left in the tank at this stage of the game? Prevailing wisdom would suggest a lot more, than what might be led to believe. To Justify’s credit, the Bob Baffert trained thoroughbred never raced as a 2-year-old. So there might be less wear and tear on Justify’s “treads” in comparison to his fellow contemporaries.

Smith and Justify are expected to race in a 9 horse field, against the likes of the 4-1 underdog Hofburg, and longshot (69-1) Gronkowski. Audible which was Justify’s biggest threat in the first two races, will not run.

The undefeated Justify won the Kentucky Derby by 2.5 lengths on a sloppy track. Only to overcome heavy fog and yet another sloppy track to win The Preakness by a half-length two weeks later. With Smith and Justify looking to brand their names in the record books, fans alike can only hope that history doesn’t repeat itself. But if it were to resemble past times, one would hope that it would be a replica of 2015.

As it stands now, Justify is a 4-5 odds on favorite to edge out the competition. Preakness runner up, Bravazo, opened up as an 8-1 dark horse.

The race will be televised on NBC [channel 4]; post time will be 6:37 p.m. EST.

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