Justify has won the Belmont Stakes to claim the 13th Triple Crown in the history of horse racing.
The 37-year wait for the Triple Crown of horse racing, mercifully ended three years ago when amazing American Pharoah crossed the finish line first at the 2015 Belmont Stakes, was at the same time exasperating, demoralizing, and borderline comical. Why can’t one of these thoroughbreds just win three athletic competitions in a row? Bad baseball teams do that all the time. A horse couldn’t pull that off in nearly four decades?
Yes, winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont within a five-week window is an incredible challenge. But sports fans aren’t famous for rational reactions. So when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, the hoards of joyous horse racing fans shook Belmont Park, right outside New York City, to its core. A generation of pent-up frustration spilled out of the crowd.
Justify, who raced to a contested victory at the Belmont States on Saturday evening to clinch the 13th Triple Crown in horse racing history, sparked plenty of euphoria as he crossed the finish. But he likely won’t be lauded as horse racing’s history savior, like American Pharoah. Justify ended a three-year Triple Crown drought. As he headed down the Belmont stretch, victory in sight, he didn’t carry the same weight.
For Justify, being one of the finest athletes of our time will have to do.
In the hours before the race, Justify rested in Belmont’s Barn 1, across the street from a Wendy’s, undistracted by the beer-soaked fans who reveled close by – including one who nearly relieved himself on a tree.
Justify’s stunning rise puts him in the pantheon of great horses. He became the first thoroughbred to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two-year-old since 1882, aka the Chester Arthur administration. The chestnut colt with a pronounced white blaze won on slop at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness; even on a faster track on a clear day at Belmont, his opponents couldn’t outrun him. Justify’s owners are betting on his international appeal. Jockey Mike Smith wore the colors of the China Horse Club, one of Justify’s owners, on race day; the red outfit with yellow starts resembled the Chinese flag, as the China Horse Club’s seeking to grow the sport there.
The white mane of Justify trainer Bob Baffert, horse whisperer to the stars, is now known the world over. The trainer of both Justify and American Pharaoh becomes just the second to ever win the Triple Crown twice — “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons also did it twice, with Gallant Fox and Omaha in the 1930s. Justify gave Baffert his 16th victory as trainer in the Triple Crown series — five Kentucky Derbies, seven Preaknesses and three Belmonts — breaking a tie with D. Wayne Lukas for tops all-time.
An impressive feat for Baffert, racing’s affable, most marketable two-legged star, for sure. But most important, Justify’s victory assures that we won’t have to wait another 37 years to see a Triple Crown. Many sports fans have just a passing interest in horse racing, only tuning in during May and June, when a Triple Crown’s on the line. And that’s fine. It’s nice to be spoiled by so much winning for a change.