Pandemonium at Rillito Park as Baffert wins second Triple Crown

Grant SmithJun 13, 2018

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.

Factors that did in so many horses before Justify, like the Derby's 20-horse field, a sloppy track and blazing early pace, seemed only to make this year's Triple Crown victor stronger.

It worked to perfection as Smith put an exclamation point on his illustrious career, guiding Justify to victory in the 1½-mile race that was over with an eighth of a mile to go.

The big chestnut colt burst onto the national scene with a victory in the Kentucky Derby. Two weeks later, he survived a challenge in the fog-shrouded Preakness, winning by a half-length, again in the slop to set up a Triple Crown try.

"Opinions die, but facts live forever, and that's what the Triple Crown is all about", Baffert said. He's just a big, tough horse. "It was meant to be".

With attendance of 90,327, on-track handle was $16,159,584.

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

"I didn't even realize it was Justify's half-brother and it was Stage Magic who'd had the foal".

For Justify, being one of the finest athletes of our time will have to do.

"To become just the 13th victor of the Triple Crown is incredible and even more special is the fact that he is only the second Triple Crown victor to be bought at public auction after Seattle Slew in 1977". Lukas has trained four Belmont winners, too.

Justify's human handlers also made history. Can he become the second Triple Crown victor in 3 years, after the previous wait was 37? James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons guided Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935. "It never gets old". The last to accomplish the feat was American Pharoah in 2015.

The white mane of Justify trainer Bob Baffert, horse whisperer to the stars, is now known the world over.

With rain and mud a strong possibility again, in NY on Saturday, the question was which Justify would we see?

Justify greets the media
Justify greets the media

The way things went this year, don't be surprised to see Smith riding a good one in next year's Triple Crown races.

"Only two Triple Crown winners have ever been bought at public auction and to think we are all involved in one of them is remarkable".

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

The powerful colt with the blaze running the length of his face showed no signs that the rigors of running a compressed schedule had gotten to him.

"Did you see him in the gate, he's standing so still", Smith said.

"This horse ran a tremendous race". He's sent from heaven, it's just incredible.

Walden (speaking to Baffert): "What did you tell Mike?"

Baffert will saddle a second horse: 30-1 shot Restoring Hope.

Going beyond Justify and his Triple Crown win, NFL Twitter was all over the race's second-place finisher. They didn't do it.

There were a few bids made by other horses turning for home.

Turning for home full of running, he looked to have all his rivals toiling, although the ex-Jeremy Noseda-trained Gronkowski - a victor at Newcastle in March - ran an incredible race to be second, having trailed the field by some distance from the stalls. "What he's accomplished in such a short time is just really incredible, I just don't know what else to say".

Justify held off a late-charge from Gronkowski, named after Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowskim, the the Giants beat in Super Bowl XLVI.

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