Baffert has winning day, 3 times over, at Belmont Stakes


Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor Justify will be taking to the sprawling oval to try to become racing's 13th Triple Crown victor and second in four years with a victory in the 1 1/2-mile race.

Justify's connections - owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners; Baffert; Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith; and breeder John Gunther - will be on-hand Saturday to receive their engraved Kentucky Derby 144 trophies.

Justify jockey Mike Smith indicated on Glenn Clark Radio June 11 that he won't rule out the Triple Crown-winning horse running in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course (N.Y.) August 25, ahead of the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs (Ky.) in early November.

Having failed with horses three times before American Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015, Baffert knows how tough it can be to get it done. The New Mexico native won 15 Grade 1 races in 2017, including nine with Bob Baffert, the trainer of Justify and now a two-time Triple Crown victor.

Because of his value as a stud, there's a chance that Justify's racing career is over, though there are still a few races he could take on later in the year. With the lion's share of a $1.5 million plus purse at stake, his hall of fame jockey, Mike Smith, guided his mount flawlessly to claim the top prize.

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Two Triple Crown horses in four years.

Justify opened his bid with a 2 ½-length victory on a sloppy track in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 5. It's rare to find a horse in this day and age that makes 6 starts in four months, period, let alone win them all.

Back in NY where he dominated in the 1990s, Smith took Justify on a walk past the packed grandstand, soaking in the cheers and giving the crowd a closer look at racing's newest hero.

From early on, Baffert said it was clear that Justify was special. We saw another Triple Crown victor.

"Just so blessed that this happened", he told broadcaster NBC. "He's so gifted; he was sent from heaven". Though he was dismissed by experts (who all hoped that his namesake would draw overt amounts of uninformed public money) and bettors (who seemed to mostly listen to the experts and allowed him to break from post 6 at odds of 24-1), Gronkowski might have gotten the last laugh on his detractors. Smith faced the pressure of helping Justify take that final step to become the sport's 13th Triple Crown victor. Not only do I get to pose for a picture, but if you don't win, you don't go to the detention barn to give a urine specimen.

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"He probably broke better today than he has out of the other two (Derby and Preakness), to be honest with you", Smith said.

Smith got the colt into a relaxed rhythm under a moderate pace heading into the backstretch, and he had an easy trip from there.

Gronkowski, named for and partly owned by the New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, returned $13.80 and $7. It shows a horse eating the flowers off a women's hat and the jockey reimbursing her in the winner's circle with Quick Pay.

Vino Rosso finished fourth, followed by Tenfold, Bravazo, Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope, Blended Citizen and Noble Indy.

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