By Shawn Rychling
Between 1978 and 2015 horse racing fans had to wait 37 years to see a 3-year-old win the Triple Crown.
American Pharoah broke the jinx after we had watched 12 winners of the Preakness and Belmont go down to defeat in the Belmont Stakes since 1979.
But it would be American Pharoah – trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza – that would end the Triple Crown jinx with a dominating performance in the Belmont Stakes.
Horse racing fans didn’t have to wait long to see the next Triple Crown. It took only three years for another horse to pull off one of the hardest feats in sports and solidify his immortality.
Justify – also trained by Bob Baffert, but ridden by Mike Smith – made it look easier than American Pharoah did three years ago.
Justify seemed to start a tad slow from the rail post, but was ridden aggressively to get the lead. He got clear by a length or so and ran reasonable fractions of 23.37 and 47.11. Mike Smith asked for a little more and Justify held the lead through a tepid ¾ of a mile in 1:13.21.
At that point, as they started into the far turn, Vino Rosso, the horse that became the pick of the wise guys as Belmont week wore on, made a run at Justify. But at the 3/8th pole, Mike Smith let it out a notch and Justify opened up a bit.
As the field turned for home it looked like Justify just toyed with his rivals keeping them at bay without really urged strongly to run.
Justify held off all late runners to become the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown and second in just the last four years. Don’t forget the 70s when we saw 3 three Triple Crown winners in the span of five years so perhaps they come in bunches.
The question now is what is next for Justify. It is still nearly impossible to fathom the Belmont was just the sixth start of this colt’s career, all of them as a 3-year-old.
Baffert loves going to Monmouth Park for the Haskell and he has won it 8 times, including with American Pharoah in 2015. Following that win, Pharoah lost to Keen Ice in the Travers, but was very game running very fast for the opening mile.
There is talk that Baffert has another 3-year-old he may want to run in the Haskell. Wouldn’t it be something if Baffert brought Justify to Saratoga in July and raced him in the Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds and then the Travers four weeks later?
What a summer that would be! We’ll find out soon enough as Saratoga opens in 35 days!
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