Triple Crown justifies rookie colt's brilliance

An elated jockey Mike Smith after riding Justify to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes in Queens, New York. The three-year-old is the second horse in four years to win the Triple Crown.
An elated jockey Mike Smith after riding Justify to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes in Queens, New York. The three-year-old is the second horse in four years to win the Triple Crown.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK • Justify became the 13th horse in history to win US racing's coveted Triple Crown with an electrifying triumph in the 150th Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

In adding the Belmont to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes victories, the unbeaten Justify, who improved to 6-0 in a racing career that began only on Feb 18, made Bob Baffert just the second trainer to saddle two Triple Crown winners.

Drawn in the unfavourable first post, Justify burst from the gate under jockey Mike Smith and never trailed in the 2.4-kilometre race dubbed the "Test of the Champion".

"I can't describe the emotion that's going through my body right now," said the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown at 52, as he made for the winner's circle. "This horse ran a tremendous race. He's so gifted. He's sent from heaven."

Despite drawing the rail, Justify went off as a 4-5 favourite and more than lived up to his billing.

Gronkowski, a 24-1 shot trained by Chad Brown and part-owned by National Football League star Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, came from well back to finish second under jockey Jose Ortiz.

Hofburg, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Irad Ortiz - and reckoned by many as a contender to thwart Justify's Triple Crown bid - was third in the field of 10.

Justify, unraced as a two-year-old, signalled his greatness with a Kentucky Derby victory on a rain-soaked Churchill Downs track last month.

He was the first horse since 1882 to win that race without having raced as a two-year-old. A sore heel a day after that victory raised brief concerns but, two weeks later, Justify dug deep at the fog-shrouded Pimlico to claim the 1.9-kilometre Preakness in Baltimore, Maryland.

It was a narrow victory, and some feared the Belmont would be a stretch too far for the big chestnut colt.

Instead, he powered to the front of the field on the sweeping Belmont track called "Big Sandy" and ran like a machine to the wire.

"This effort has reinforced our belief that America is a great place to do racing," said Teo Ah Khing, founder of the China Horse Club, a co-owner of Justify.

After racing in WinStar Farm colours in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Justify bore the red and yellow of the China Horse Club on Saturday in Elmont, New York.

Justify's Triple Crown feat came 45 years to the day after another physically imposing chestnut, Secretariat, broke from the first post and won the Belmont by a stunning 31 lengths to complete the Triple Crown.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2018, with the headline 'Triple Crown justifies rookie colt's brilliance'. Print Edition | Subscribe