Mike Smith And Justify Arrive The 13th

By Jason Gonzalez

The racing gods have spoken and they can now “Justify” their claim for Mike Smith and his four legged charge to be placed in the lexicon of all-time greats in thoroughbred history. Previous Triple Crown winners Secretariat who also ran from the one slot like Justify 45 years ago, Seattle Slew the first undefeated horse to capture the Triple Crown, Affirmed, and most recently American Pharoah must now make room for the newest member of this exclusive group and say “Welcome”.

After completing the first two legs of the Triple Crown over a month ago, Kentucky Derby and The Preakness, in rain and in fog, Smith and Justify galloped into the Belmont Stakes, conquering the grueling 1-1/2 mile course, starting from the rail to complete the final jewel in an impressive 2:28. Nine other horses tried but were unequivocally shut down by the 1,400 pound chestnut colt by 1 ¾ lengths. With a Triple Crown victory under their belt, Smith and Justify have become the 13th pair to do so in the sport.

Photo: NYRA

Justify, who went off as a 4/5 favorite to win the race, ran wire-to-wire to the finish line without ever having to shift into a second gear. Gronkowski would finish second [who for a good portion of the race was off of the screen and unaccounted for, with Hofburg and Vino Rosso rounding out the pack at third and fourth.

“This horse ran a tremendous race,” shouted a jubilant Smith before a raucous crowd of 90,327. “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. He’s just brilliant. Did you see him standing in the gate? He’s standing so still…I actually thought he’s not going to break today. I mean, he left there like he was going 440 yards in Riodoso, New Mexico.”

Photo: NYRA

But besides joining the other Triple Crown winners, Smith and Justify have branded their names in the history books in ways that were unimaginable. At 52, Smith is the oldest jockey to win the coveted prize. Plus, Justify becomes the first horse to capture glory, while defeating a combined pool of 35 horses over the last three races

There was another notable milestone that was achieved on Saturday night as well. Bob Baffert, the trainer of Justify, has now joined “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons as the only trainers to have won the Triple Crown twice.

Fitzsimmons won it in 1930 with Gallant Fox and in 1935 with Omaha. Baffert captured racing immortality for the first time three years ago with his mount American Pharoah. Baffert is now 2-for-5 in Triple Crown races, further solidifying his legacy as the best trainer in the game today. If he were playing baseball, Baffert would be hitting.400. No other trainer in the history of the sport has had five opportunities to accomplish the improbable. Whatever Baffert’s style is, for sure it’s identical to none. He has an eye for talent and he knows how to get the most of each horse that he works with.

Photo: NYRA

 “It’s just amazing…it never gets old. American Pharoah, he’ll always be my first love…Mike Smith, he deserves something like this,” said Baffert.

When Baffert was asked to compare and contrast the differences and similarities to American Pharoah, the Hall-of-Fame trainer replied,

“He [Justify] was showing me the same signs, he showed me that brilliance. Superior horse. I mean, he could have won every race on the undercard today. He’s just that kind of horse.”

Justify did things his way. The now 3-year-old thoroughbred never raced as a 2-year-old. But over the course of 4 months, Justify amassed an impressive record of 6-0, so time will tell if Justify’s owners will choose to retire him for breeding purposes. It’s safe to say that Justify’s stud fee has increased significantly. Considering the monetary value of Justify, it would be foolish to not contemplate retirement.

Elliot Walden, who is one of the owners of Justify, seemed optimistic of the prospect of running Justify again, following his historic victory. During the post-race presser, Walden suggested that it was “possible” for Justify to race again. As the year comes to an end, the two biggest races remaining on the calendar are the Travers Stakes in August at Saratoga and The Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs in November. There is ample time for Team Justify to make a wise decision regarding their horse’s future.

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