With Justify on the doorstep of racing immortality prior to the 2018 Belmont Stakes, one question needed to be answered: Could a horse that began his racing career less than four months ago become a Triple Crown winner?
Nine other horses stood between Justify and the seemingly impossible feat, including the second and third-place finishers from the Preakness, Bravazo and Tenfold, as well as a few intriguing also-rans from the Kentucky Derby that bypassed the second leg of the Triple Crown.
In front of a crowd of 90,327 (attendance was capped at Belmont Park) on an ideal day in early June, Justify embarked on his quest from the rail and got off to a smooth beginning over the fast track. The 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy went straight to the front under Mike Smith and carved out honest splits for the 1 ½-mile journey of 23.37 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.11 for the half.
While Justify was coasting along on the lead, his stablemate Restoring Hope made an eventful run into the first turn, being gunned to join the leader then bearing out sharply nearing the bend before angling back and restrained to sit just off Justify’s flank. Down the backstretch, Justify continued to show the way through three-quarters 1:13.21 and a mile in 1:38.09 as his host of pursuers sat patiently waiting for their chance to strike.
Vino Rosso was the first to come after the Triple Crown hopeful, making his move going into the far turn, while Bravazo loomed a threat along the inside in third. With neither able to put a dent in the margin, Gronkowski snuck up the rail leaving the turn as Bravazo was tipped to the outside.
Turning for home Justify continued to roll, but Gronkowski had a full head of steam and Hofburg emerged on the outside as a potential upsetter. The two gave serious chase throughout the stretch but it was ultimately in vain as Justify showed no signs of stopping and chugged home to a 1 ¾-length victory, becoming American racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner in the process.
Gronkowski won the battle for second, finishing 1 ¾ lengths in front of Hofburg, who bested Vino Rosso by a neck for third.
The victory gave trainer Bob Baffert his second Triple Crown winner in just four years and jockey Mike Smith his first ever. To Justify’s credit, he became just the second horse in history to win the Triple Crown while undefeated and the first to accomplish the feat without having raced as a 2-year-old.
A little more than a month after the Belmont, it was announced that Justify would be retired from racing, thus ending the most illustrious four-month career of any American racehorse.