Justify Wins Belmont to Become 13th Triple Crown Champ

Julio Cortez  AP

The late bloomer won the 150th Belmont Stakes in NY by 1¾ lengths on Saturday, leading all the way to give the sport its 13th Triple Crown champion. "We are focused on the Belmont Stakes and his racing career at this time".

Followed that win up with a narrow, half-length victory over Bravazo at the Preakness Stakes in sloppy conditions and thick fog before winning the final jewel of the Triple Crown on Saturday. "It's the longest, quickest journey we've ever been on". He has spent more than two decades covering the National Hockey League and just about every sports team in the NY metropolitan area. "It was meant to be".

Because Justify trampled on the Curse of Apollo, which said no horse could win the Kentucky Derby without running as a 2-year-old, he'll be talked about as the flag bearer for a new generation of lightly raced Triple Crown contenders. The most recent horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and lose at Belmont Park was California Chrome in 2014.

Baffert and Smarty's trainer, John Servis, are good friends, and Servis recently reminded him of the two-pronged attack Smarty took when he was going for the 2004 Triple Crown.

Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who trained Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935 to Triple Crowns, is the other. Baffert won in 2015 with American Pharoah. He won his first three races by a combined 19 lengths, making trainer Bob Baffert a believer.

"He was showing me the same signs (as American Pharoah)", Baffert said of Justify.

But Baffert also called Justify one of the all-time greats.

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

"Fifty-two years old. Think about that accomplishment, winning a Triple Crown at 52 years old?"

Rafael Nadal speaks out on catching Roger Federer's Grand Slam haul
The Spaniard also won the title without losing a set, becoming the third man to do so in the Open era after Ilie Nastase and Borg. At 2-1 in the fourth set, Nadal stopped serving during a game because he couldn't straighten his left middle finger.

The TV was showing a replay of Justify's wire-to-wire victory Saturday in the 150th Belmont Stakes, a dominating performance that stamped the massive chestnut colt as one of the greatest in thoroughbred history. "Did you see him in the gate?" "He's sent from heaven". The best bet for watching the race is on NBC Sports Live here. I'm so proud to be an American and feel this way, it's very emotional for me.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor is the early 4-5 favorite for Saturday's 11/2-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the three-race series.

In 2015, another horse manned by trainer Bob Baffert rode to glory.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor has been guided to this point by a couple of veterans: trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith.

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.

Smith got the big colt into a relaxed rhythm under a moderate pace heading into the backstretch, and he had an easy trip from there.

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.

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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