Belmont Stakes presents Justify with daunting challenges, and potential glory

Belmont Stakes presents Justify with daunting challenges, and potential glory

Bob Baffert has done everything he can with Justify. He burnished his reputation by defeating nine rivals, the most faced by any Triple Crown champion.

The big chestnut colt burst onto the national scene with a victory in the Kentucky Derby.

"This horse ran a tremendous race".

He became the first horse in 136 years to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a juvenile, then hung on in a surreal fog to win by a half-length in the Preakness three weeks ago. For this horse to do it for (jockey) Mike Smith, he deserved something like this.

Justify is taking on nine rivals, the largest number that a potential Triple Crown victor has ever faced. There isn't expected to be a rain cloud in sight, though skies may be partly cloud, so a fast track and firm turf is on tap for the 13-race card. Birdstone, a 36-1 shot, reeled in Smarty Jones, who lost by a length. Before Justify, it hadn't been done by a horse who didn't run at 2 and made only six starts in such a short time. "I knew unless he settled it wasn't going to work and he still nearly won". Horses and riders aren't used to 11/2-mile races in the USA, where the focus is on sprinting.

He had to run a quarter-mile longer than he ever had before to take the win. Others have moved too late and let the leaders get away.

"Justify is a super horse".

Smith told reporters, "I just want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for blessing us on this afternoon, and blessing us with this incredible horse".

Newgate Farm boss Henry Field can't wait for unbeaten Triple Crown victor Justify to stand as a stallion in Australia after watching the colt he helped buy win the Belmont Stakes on Sunday.

Justify greets the media
Justify greets the media

"It's just about getting the horse in a good, happy, comfortable place, wherever that may be", Smith said. When Geroux broke next to last I would have thought that was a great scenario, he doesn't have to worry about him.

"Our focus was on each race as they came up", Elliot Walden of WinStar Farm said after Justify's Triple Crown Banner was unveiled Sunday.

Scat Daddy's bloodlines include Canadian-breds Nijinsky (an English Triple Crown champion), Northern Dancer and Storm Bird.

Justify began his racing career on February 18, a scant 77 days before the Derby.

"Opinions die, but facts live forever, and that's what the Triple Crown is all about", Baffert said. The crowd has been capped at 90,000.

"They're two fantastic horses, but I have to say American Pharoah is better", he said. "Once he enters the building, it'll be like Elvis".

Bob Baffert-trained Justify arrived in town on Wednesday ahead of his attempt to become the 13th horse to complete the triple crown, and the second in four years, after American Pharoah in 2015.

Given the fact that only three years had passed since the last Triple Crown victor, there wasn't almost as much pre-race media hype as there had been in 2015 when American Pharoah won the Belmont to become the first Triple Crown victor since Affirmed in 1978.

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