Unraced as a 2-year-old and undefeated in five lifetime starts as a 3-year old, Justify will attempt to become the 13th Triple Crown winner in thoroughbred horseracing history this Saturday in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes.
Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, Justify triumphed in sloppy conditions to capture both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
Sent off as one of the heaviest Preakness favorites in recent history — 2-5 — Justify shook off co-frontrunner and Derby runner-up Good Magic, then held off late-charging Bravazo and Tenfold to move one stride closer to immortality. He’s the 36th horse to take the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
“We knew he wasn't going to coast to the wire," Baffert said after the Preakness. "It was close, but for him, what he's done; it's his fifth race, it's pretty incredible still.”
If he crosses the wire first in the “Test of the Champion”, Justify, a chestnut colt by Scat Daddy, will become the second Triple Crown winner in four years and join American Pharoah (2015), Affirmed (1978), Seattle Slew (’77), Secretariat (’73), Citation (’48), Assault (’46), Count Fleet (’43), Whirlaway (’41), War Admiral (’37), Omaha (’35), Gallant Fox (’30), and Sir Barton (’19) in the history books.
Baffert, who has seven Preakness victories, is looking to become only the second person in history to train two Triple Crown winners. He made three Triple Crown attempts prior to finally achieving racing’s most elusive feat with American Pharoah. Silver Charm won the first two legs in 1997, as did Real Quiet in 1998, and War Emblem in 2002, before falling short in the third jewel.
"I think it's a little bit different," said Baffert, who in five tries has never lost the Preakness with a Derby winner. "Before, we'd go there thinking it's going to be so difficult and something always goes wrong,” he added. “I just feel, with this horse, he's so talented, something can go wrong and he'd still win. He's a superior horse.”
Owned in partnership by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Head of Plains Partners, and SF Racing, Justify could face a full field in the Belmont, the centerpiece of the expanded three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival featuring 18 stakes races with $9.4 million in purses.
“Congratulations to Justify and his connections for what they have already accomplished, and we look forward to welcoming them to Belmont Park” NYRA CEO & President Chris Kay said.
Among Justify’s likely challengers are Bravazo and a handful of horses from the Derby who skipped the Preakness including Hofburg (7th), Vino Rosso (9th), and Free Drop Billy (16th). Also awaiting Justify are Grade 3 Peter Pan winner Blended Citizen and Gronkowski, a multiple stakes winner in Europe named for, and co-owned by, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Audible and Solomini, a respective third and 10th in the Derby, are possible for the race, as is Tenfold.
“The horse does run well in the mud, but you ought to see him on a dry track,” Jimmy Barnes, who serves as Baffert’s chief assistant, said of Justify. “You guys haven't seen him on a dry track. I'm waiting to see him on a dry track myself. But with the mud, you never know what to expect. Sometimes races don't pan out the way you'd think they will. But for him, it's been stay clean.”
The 13-race card gets underway at 11:35 a.m. General admission is $30 — while supplies last — and attendance will be capped at 90,000. Third Eye Blind is headlining the entertainment lineup with trackside pre- and post-race concerts.