Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Sports | By Jonathan Ford

Belmont Stakes presents Justify with daunting challenges, and potential glory

Belmont Stakes presents Justify with daunting challenges, and potential glory

According to Sports Illustrated, the curse of Apollo was one of the "longest curses in sports". The thoroughbred won the 1 3/16-mile Preakness at Pimlico Race Course on May 19 by holding off Bravazo by a half-length on a muddy track.

After a sun-filled day of races, an ominous cloud cover settled over Belmont Park right as Justify and the rest of the field entered the starting gate, setting the drama for the 90,327 people in attendance.

Justify is on a winning streak.

Even so, Justify enjoyed a dry track on Saturday and led the race from start to finish.

Given the fact that only three years had passed since the last Triple Crown victor, there wasn't almost as much pre-race media hype as there had been in 2015 when American Pharoah won the Belmont to become the first Triple Crown victor since Affirmed in 1978.

Restoring Hope, also trained by Baffert, ran interference for the champion while traveling second and deterring any threats by forcing them to go extremely wide. Remarkably, Justify did not have his first start until February 18th this year and has quickly become the pin-up horse of American racing. But Justify may come close.

"His mechanics, his motion, just the way he did it. ..."

"He was showing me the same signs (as American Pharoah)", Baffert said of Justify. "He looks no different than the way American Pharoah did coming in here". Now just three years later, racing is celebrating another sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

However, Baffert has seen similarities in his stride, his growth and his potential.

"To me, Abel Tasman and Hopportunity, when they set the stage early, I thought this is going to be good", Baffert said. "And this horse is getting there". So any horse that wins all three passes a threshold of speed, strength, and just plain grit.

"It was exciting to think about what could be down the road with this horse", Brown said.

Mara, a member of Starlight Racing, raved about jockey Mike Smith.

Justify, the Triple Crown victor, will get a well-deserved break before racing again this year, although no date or location has been targeted.

Smith says Justify is both smart and in great shape. "But I said, I don't know, three is a good number".

WinStar Farm CEO Elliott Walden has denied that a deal has been made and the New York Times last week reported that it may not be official until September so that Justify's owners can take advantage of tax laws dealing with capital gains. "So far he hasn't gotten overheated or get too anxious about things. He seems to kind of like all the attention, so to say, somewhat". It was a narrow victory, and some feared the 1 1/2-mile Belmont would be a stretch too far for the big chestnut colt.

"I felt great, and that probably wouldn't have happened 10 years ago or 20 years ago", Smith said. "Especially in these big money situations, nobody's better".

When fans roared at him in appreciation on the way back to the winner's circle, Smith calmly point to Justify.

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