Belmont Park, Elmont, New York: Justify today, Saturday, becomes the 13th thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown, holding off Gronkowski in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. It’s trainer Bob Baffert’s second Triple Crown. Justify is also the first thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown since American Pharoah in 2015
The three-day Belmont Stakes horse racing festival started on Thursday with 18 stakes, $9.4 million and a Triple Crown on the line.
Justify became the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without having competed as a 2-year-old. Then he overcame a hoof bruise and fended off his Derby rival Good Magic in heavy fog while winning the Preakness Stakes on yet another sloppy track. All signs point to him having come out of the race well, and his Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert says he looks stronger and fitter than he did before his earlier two races.
No Triple Crown winner has faced more than seven rivals in the Belmont, so Justify could be the first. He’ll have nine horses to contend with. Justify and Bravazo will be the only horses to run in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Bravazo finished sixth in the Derby and closed with a rush to take second in the Preakness.
Justify drew the No. 1 post – With jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert – for the colt’s bid to sweep the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was made the early 4-5 favorite in the 10-horse field for Saturday’s race.
And history might be on Justify’s side. Since 1905, a leading 23 horses have won from the No. 1 post. The last to win from there was Empire Maker in 2003 when he spoiled Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid.
Justify won the first two legs of the series from the No. 7 post. He ran on sloppy tracks both times and the forecast for Saturday calls for a 60 percent chance of rain.
This time the No. 7 hole went to Tenfold. The colt was a fast-closing third in the Preakness and is 12-1 for the Belmont.
The field for the 150th Belmont in post position order with jockeys and odds are as follows: Justify, Smith, 4-5; Free Drop Billy, Robby Albarado, 30-1; Bravazo, Luis Saez, 8-1; Hofburg, Irad Ortiz Jr., 9-2; Restoring Hope, Geroux, 30-1; Gronkowski, Jose Ortiz, 12-1; Tenfold, Ricardo Santana Jr., 12-1; Vino Rosso, John Velazquez, 8-1; Noble Indy, Javier Castellano, 30-1; Blended Citizen, Kyle Frey, 15-1.
Since 1932, 23 horses have won the first two legs but did not finish the job. Three didn’t run, and of the 20 who did, eight finished second, including the Baffert-trained Real Quiet, who lost by a nose in 1998. Even if Justify does win, it is hard to imagine the crowd erupting in as much rapture as it did on June 6, 2015, when American Pharoah ran away from the field, winning by five and a half lengths, to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to capture the Crown.
Justify succeeded in sweeping the Triple Crown just three years after American Pharoah, it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened close together. Gallant Fox, Omaha and War Admiral accomplished the feat in the 1930s. The 1940s saw Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault and Citation achieve racing immortality. Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed added their names to the list in the 1970s.