Triple Crown hopeful Justify gallops around the main track during a workout at Belmont Park, Friday, June 8, 2018, in Elmont, N.Y. Justify will attempt to become the 13th Triple Crown victor when he races in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race on Saturday.
The 37-year wait for the Triple Crown of horse racing, mercifully ended three years ago when fantastic American Pharoah crossed the finish line first at the 2015 Belmont Stakes, was at the same time exasperating, demoralizing, and borderline comical.
The 52-year-old jockey who was born in Roswell, grew up in Dexter and has been dominating big races in recent years put an exclamation point on his illustrious career Saturday, guiding Justify to the Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont Stakes.
Justify has won all six of his career starts, four at grade one level.
Being that valuable might make it hard for the horse to get back on the track again, though ownership seemed optimistic after the win that it was possible. Gronkowski likely would have been even closer to Justify at the wire had he not shown his inexperience by failing to switch leads for a significant portion of the stretch run.
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. That said, in nine starts he only has two wins and has never lived up to the hype that surrounded him as a two-year-old. Justify is also running on the inside post, where no horse has won the Belmont since 1997.
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Justify won the Belmont on Saturday by 1¾ lengths over 24-1 shot Gronkowski after winning the Kentucky Derby by 2½ lengths and the Preakness by a half-length.
Ultimately, Gronkowski flattened out and finished second, 1 3/4 lengths back, but he came in another 1 3/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Hofburg. "He just came on there and broke every curse there was". The horse needs to win the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes on June 9 to earn the top horse racing prize.
With rain and mud a strong possibility again, in NY on Saturday, the question was which Justify would we see?
All that remained was to prove that he had the toughness and resolve to conquer the longest, most grueling leg of the Triple Crown. Instead of thanking the horse's owner and the trainer, the very first thing he told NBC while being interviewed on horseback following the race, "First of all, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ". "This horse, I'm sure there was millions of people screaming at their TV wanting to see it done".
One owner believes that there was something suspicious about how the race was handled by Restoring Hope, a stablemate of Justify's, with both horses trained by Bob Baffert.
There were a few bids made by other horses turning for home. He took his hand away to give Justify a periodic breath, then gave him a squeeze when he wanted more.