It was over 10 jumps out of the gate. Once again, Justify broke from the gate brilliantly and then turned on his exceptional speed; the remainder of the field was left to inhale the ether. For all intents and purposes Mike Smith and Justify had virtually “stupefied” them, because from that point on there was no challenge or straw in their way to winning the 150th Belmont Stakes and the oft-elusive Triple Crown.
What happened Saturday is just so remarkable and truly a singular event in Triple Crown history.
If you’ll recall, I’d gone about comatose watching the prep races leading up to this year’s Classics. From the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile through January and February ‘s early preps I found myself unimpressed and disappointed by the horses that were winning the races; it was really looking like it would be an uninspired series of races from the first Saturday in May through early June. Trust and believe, a Triple Crown was definitely not in my thoughts.
And then February 18 rolled around and I caught a maiden three-year-old race at Santa Anita and I sat up and my heart raced, because even though it was his first race, I was looking at a real RACEHORSE. My emotions were soon back in check, because, damn it all, this horse hadn’t run a single race at two and it was mid-February. Still, he was SO stunning to watch because he had such BEAUTIFUL motion, efficient and light (so much like American Pharoah actually. Nah, no way could there be another one like him so soon), I went ahead and put him in my Virtual Stable because I sure didn’t want to miss seeing his next race(s); maybe he could do something this summer.
Well, that second race rolled around and was equally impressive, Mike Smith was on board for the first time because Bob Baffert thought he might have something special. When he crossed the finish line, untested and not spent, the CRAZY TALK started–He’s going to be pointed to the Santa Anita Derby to see if he can get the qualifying points to run in the Derby. Sure, why not? He only has ZERO points to qualify for the Derby in a field that was going to require him to have at least 30-50 to get in the gate. Yeah, he’s special, but this is now do or die and he’ll be going up against one of the favorites for the Derby coming out of his relatively strong two-year-old season, Bolt d’Oro. Not one that had thrilled me, but highly regarded by many, in the Santa Anita Derby, Bolt d’Oro became the first of many known contenders to wonder who was the colt that the only parts they saw once the race began were his heels, tail, and rump!
I was happy to see Justify make the Derby field, but as I indicated previously, it was going to be a big ask to ask any colt to win the Kentucky Derby in his fourth race ever. The old Apollo Curse, no foundation, all that established knowledge you know. Still believed in Justify though, especially against the competition that day, and to my delight he didn’t disappoint! Monsoon rains, 19 other horses, no matter to him; he jumped to the lead and he was gone. And winning that Derby would have been more than enough to have left me impressed with Justify for a long, long time. He’d done something a horse hadn’t accomplished in well over a century. To paraphrase E. B. White’s Charlotte–“SOME HORSE!”
But the ride was just underway, as despite a troubled Preakness, Justify won again. Troubled? How? It just looked like he was running out of gas. I thought so as well until the full story of the soggy, foggy Preakness emerged. First, Justify jumped tracks at least once, possibly multiple times during the running of the race. That, in and of itself is a difficult thing to overcome as it breaks momentum and has cost more than a few horses the race. Justify overcame that. Second, Good Magic hooked Justify out of the gate and the two of them had their own mini match race until late in the stretch; Good Magic yielded, Justify carried on even with new horses closing. Third, Mike Smith admitted he eased up on his ride before the wire in part because he was concerned about Justify jumping again and he believed he was a bit more clear to the wire than they were. Fourth, post race, some of Justify’s connections commented that they really weren’t positive Justify really liked running over a wet track. Stop and let that sink in for a moment. It REALLY astounded me to hear them say this as he’d now twice skipped over sloppy tracks with the greatest of ease…this might be what it looked like when he could be extending himself over a less than desirable surface? Really??!!?? And if so, what by extension might he be able to do at a dry Belmont Park??? Finally, fifth, Justify’s finishing time in his Preakness was FASTER, faster, than American Pharoah’s winning time in the same race in comparable conditions (sans fog).
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE??!!??
I so wanted to come out and say in my pre-Belmont post: Justify wins! It was surely what my eyes were telling me as he continued to prepare like he’d run no serious races in the past five weeks. It was surely what my brain was telling me, because I just didn’t think any of the other entrants were in his league despite rest or anything else, and it was SURELY what my heart wanted, because I was now completely smitten, and despite all he’d already accomplished I was in complete agreement with Bob Baffert–I KNEW he was great, but you really wanted him to have that Belmont win and by extension the Triple Crown so there could be absolutely NO doubt, questions, or arguments as June 9th ended and faded into history.
Thank you Justify, you DELIVERED and then some!!
I was a little nervous and concerned when I heard the first fraction for the opening quarter mile. It was brisk (it LOOKED brisk!) but it wasn’t suicidal and hey, no one was going with Justify pressuring him! Perfect. Then watching his motion; FLAWLESS, he was just skipping over “Big Sandy” and Mike Smith was sitting motionless. On the turn for home was the last question–Is there enough left in the tank? Sure looked like the tank was FULL as Mike was still sitting chilly while Velazquez, Ortiz, Ortiz, and Santana were scrubbing, riding for all they were worth and going to the whip to no avail before Mike even flagged Justify and gave him a few reminders down the stretch.
At the sixteenth pole, the celebration began in this household, alarming the dogs more than the thunder rumbling outdoors! 😉
I’ve discussed my opinion of what Justify has done in 111 days with some of you online in the past two days. Here’s my opinion on where I believe Justify rates among the now five Triple Crown winners (Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed–still my personal favorite, American Pharoah, and Justify) I’ve been blessed to see. I think Justify is the most physically gifted racehorse to win the Triple Crown since Secretariat and that’s in part no accident since he has Secretariat four times in his pedigree, top and bottom.
Taking nothing away from American Pharoah who is equally stride efficient and a superior representative of the Thoroughbred breed, Justify has accomplished something no one would have thought reasonable, plausible or possible to do in a FOUR-MONTH window! The horse had no two-year-old experience and completed his Triple Crown UNDEFEATED. Until Saturday, only Seattle Slew completed the Triple Crown undefeated; he also raced as a two year old.
The only analogy I can make to what Justify has pulled off in human terms would be is a 16-year-old getting their driver’s license in February and then in May winning the Indianapolis 500 or Grand Prix of Monaco, wire to wire. Crazy, but he did it!! And don’t get it twisted; much like Secretariat’s record 31-length margin of victory AND world-record winning time (on dirt) of 2:24 flat in the Belmont Stakes, I’m about positive you will never see another colt pull off the most difficult challenge in all of sports in the manner Justify did. It’s extraordinary!
Or as race announcer Larry Collmus stated perfectly in the final strides of Belmont Stakes 150–“He’s just perfect and now he’s just immortal!” Justify is now the 13th winner of the Triple Crown!