American Triple Crown winners are a bit like London buses in that you wait 37 years for one to come along and then another turns up shortly afterwards. The Bob Baffert-trained American Pharoah in 2015 became the twelfth horse to complete the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes treble since Affirmed in 1978, joining an illustrious list of previous US champions that include such household names as War Admiral, Citation, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.
The walk of a Champion, Justify. pic.twitter.com/AQcLfLe1y2— Belmont Stakes (@BelmontStakes) June 9, 2018
Also trained by Baffert and attempting to become the first US Triple Crown winner not to have raced as a juvenile, Justify, a son of prodigious sire Scat Daddy, had not seen a racecourse prior to winning a Maiden contest at Santa Anita on 18th February. Two more victories came at that venue before the chestnut colt landed the first two legs of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs and Pimlico. Going into Saturday’s Belmont Classic as the 4-5 favourite the mount of 52-year-old Mike Smith had been handed the number one stall and the start of the 1m 4f race was set to prove crucial.
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Described by his rider as “ sent from heaven, “ Justify left the gate so fast “ it was like he was going to go 440 yards “ according to Smith, and with stablemate Restoring Hope acting as a ‘ protector ‘ to the leader in second place, ensured Justify would not get into a dogfight up front with any of his rivals. Always travelling comfortably at his own pace the horse set to become the thirteenth US Triple Crown winner had no trouble in seeing off the challenges of first Vino Rosso and finally the ex-Jeremy Noseda-trained Gronkowski who could get no nearer than a length and three quarters to the all-the-way winner passing the post.
After the crescendo of applause for Justify and his connections died down Baffert was quick to heap praise on his jockey, saying: “ I’m so happy for Mike Smith, there’s no one more deserving than him. I told Mike, ‘ welcome to the club ‘.” Just what the future holds for the unbeaten winner of his six starts is unclear but the Breeders Cup Classic must be high on the agenda making the 3-1 offered by William Hill a tempting long-term proposition.
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