And while there was no pent-up anguish this time around to vigorously stoke enthusiasm, Justify, ridden by the 52-year-old ironman Mike Smith, did not disappoint the crowd as he captured the 150th Belmont Stakes and become just the 13th Triple Crown victor.
The victory marks the second Triple Crown win for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who also won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes with American Pharoah in 2015. A flop at the track might make Coolmore, whose USA business Ashford Stud also has American Pharoah's breeding rights, more cool on a Triple Crown winner's stock.
Despite drawing the rail, Justify went off as a 4-5 favorite and more than lived up to his billing.
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. Over a decade later, Smith is one win away from a Triple Crown thanks to Baffert's belief in the jockey. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness on sloppy tracks after heavy rain.
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She had five birdies on the back nine, including the par-4 18th, to finish her day in control at the event. Ariya blocked a tee shot into a hazard and ran up the only triple bogey at the hole by anyone all week.
The two Todd Pletcher-trained racers, Vino Rosso (+900) and Noble Indy (+2800), will break side-by-side from gates 8 and 9 respectively. He seemed to have recovered nicely from a hoof bruise after The Derby, but the Belmont's mile and a half can expose even the most bulletproof of horses. Baffert, 65, had less than a year to train Justify who suffered a minor injury and didn't race his second year.
"I think that people in the horse racing industry saw what we did and what we were able to do as far as making additional money".
"Yeah, I belong now", said Smith, who ripped carnations from the garland of flowers draped on Justify after the race and tossed them in the air to celebrate. While it served Secretariat well, it posed a concern for Baffert, who anxious his colt might get pinned against the rail if he didn't break well.
Now he has joined Jim Fitzsimmons, who conditioned Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935, as the only trainers to saddle two Triple Crown winners. Gronkowski was a bit green in the stretch, changing leads several times under Jose Ortiz, but ran well to finish second.
Justify snapped an century-old streak back at the 2018 Kentucky Derby by coming the first horse since 1882 to win said race with racing as a 2-year-old, a common age for horses to begin their racing career. He could hardly believe the acceleration he felt underneath him when he asked the big horse to make a move midway through a 6 ½-length victory.