Drawn in the unfavorable first post, Justify burst from the gate under jockey Mike Smith and never trailed in the 1 1/2 mile race dubbed the "Test of the Champion". The crowd has been capped at 90,000.
Baffert fell short the first three times he brought a horse to Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown - with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002). This will be the sixth race since February 18 for the three-year old, who took his entire second year off. "We've been able to brand something very special in what we've accomplished". Why can't one of these thoroughbreds just win three athletic competitions in a row?
Among the possibilities: the $1 million Haskell Invitational on July 29 at Monmouth Park in Nw Jersey; the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar outside San Diego on August 18; and the $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga in NY on August 25.
The 24-1 long-shot Gronkowski battled from the back of the pack to cross the line second, nearly two length's behind Justify, while the 5-1 Hofburg finished third.
Baffert broke a 37-year drought in 2015 with American Pharoah.
Smith thanked Baffert for giving him the opportunity to ride Justify into the history books. 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. But jockeys say Smith's age is actually an advantage.
Last year, Baffert won four races with Mor Spirit (Metropolitan Handicap), Abel Tasman (Acorn), American Anthem (Woody Stephens) and West Coast (Easy Goer).
At 6-0, he joins Seattle Slew in 1977 as the only two undefeated Triple Crown winners; he's the first to sweep the series without racing at age 2 (because of a pulled muscle); and he's the only horse to beat nine rivals in the Belmont with a Triple try on the line.
An impressive feat for Baffert, racing's affable, most marketable two-legged star, for sure. "He's now become a household name, and I'm looking forward to his next race just as much as you guys are".
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.
Hall of Fame jockey Smith - the oldest rider to win the Triple Crown - said: "This horse is so gifted". Turning for home with a date with immortality awaiting him in the winner's circle, Justify bounded home with Gronkowski (Lonhro ) giving belated chase to the wire.
Those are the concerns, but for betting purposes, I truly think Justify is a freak of a horse and will contend in this race.
Gronkowski, named for and partly owned by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, returned $13.80 and $7.
Justify's dominance in a 10-horse field that included Preakness runnerup Bravazo and Derby horses Hofburg (who finished third), Vino Rosso and Free Drop Billy moved Baffert to tears afterward, as his thoughts turned to his late parents and friends he has lost, convinced they've somehow been helping him these past years.
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