ELMONT, N.Y. — Justify proved he is a true champion when he made every pole a winning one in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of Thoroughbred Racing's Triple Crown.
The 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy from the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic defeated nine rivals in the mile and half “Test of Champions” that offered not only $1.5 million but the mantle of “greatness” to any horse that could win the longest race of the Triple Crown after convincing wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes a month earlier.
That mantle will rest lightly on the shoulders of Justify as he becomes only the second colt in the history of the Triple Crown to go into — and come out of — the Belmont undefeated. The first one to do it was Seattle Slew in 1977.
There were no surprises awaiting his rivals when Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert entered him for the Belmont last Monday. He won the Kentucky Derby by 2-1/2 lengths after racing close to the pace for the first three quarters.
He came back two weeks later and shed Good Magic coming out of the gate and then raced again on the front end beating a fast closing Bravazo by a half length.
They expected him to try for the lead coming from the Number 1 post position in the Belmont. They were right.
After a Derby and a Preakness on wet tracks, he caught a fast racing strip for the Belmont and immediately jumped to the lead when the gate opened and the bell rang. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, sitting statue-still down the back stretch, let him run on the lead while rivals Gronkowski, Hofburg and Vino Rosso battle for position behind him but always two lengths off Justify's pace.
The brilliant red and gold silks of the China Horse Club were highly visible to the capacity crowd as the field turned for home leading by two. After the race, Smith said he didn't have much to do. “Every time I squeezed a little bit, he responded, the 52 year-old jockey said.
But, the race is best summed up by a pre-race conversation between Elliot Walden of WinStar Farms (one of the partners in Justify along with China Horse Club, Head of the Plains Partners and Starlight Racing) and Bob Baffert.
Walden (speaking to Baffert): “What did you tell Mike?”
Baffert's reply: “There's plenty of gas in the tank, Don't use it all up at once.”
Justify's romp resulted in a quarter in 23.37, a half in 48.11 and six furlongs in 1:13.21, a fairly snappy pace for a mile and half horse race. The final time of 2:28.18 was well off of Secretariat's 2:24 that was set in the 1973 Belmont — and may never be broken.
At the wire, it was the European invader Gronkowski second, Hofburg third and Vino Rosso fourth.
If he stays in the east, Justify now goes on to either the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park or the Jim Dandy at Saratoga.
In either case, he brings with him a record of six for six with earnings of $3.7 million.
Second Highest Handle In Belmont History
Belmont Stakes Day card, highlighted by Justify's Triple Crown triumph, generated all-sources handle of $137,954,895, the second-highest one-day handle in NYRA history behind Belmont Stakes Day in 2014.
With attendance of 90,327, on-track handle was $16,159,584.
All-sources handle for the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival was $168,975,295.
All-sources wagering on the 150th Belmont Stakes itself, carded as Race 11 of 13, was $72,702,815 with on-track handle totaling $6,884,907.
In 2015, the previous year with a Triple Crown on the line, all-sources handle on Belmont Stakes Day was $135,790,321.
The one-day record for all-sources handle was $151,109,373 on June 7, 2014, when California Chrome was bidding for the Triple Crown.
The Belmont Stakes wasn't the only race, the undercard attracted top horses in all age groups and genders.
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