Justify won the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Long Island on Saturday, completing a Triple Crown sweep.
Justify won the race wire-to-wire, completing an undefeated season and becoming just the 13th horse to win all three jewels of horseracing.
The last horse to sweep the Triple Crown was American Pharoah in 2015, breaking a 37-year drought.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner has been guided to this point by a couple of veterans: trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith. Baffert oversaw American Pharoah's Triple Crown success in 2015 and has used the same methods with Justify. Smith has never been aboard a Triple Crown winner, but at 52 he has the shrewdness and knowledge from regularly riding at Belmont Park years ago to rely on.
Baffert was the colt's trainer and is the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice.
Mike Smith is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.
Unlike Justify's previous wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, skies were sunny and the track was not sloppy. A crowd capped at 90,000 was expected.
Justify opened his bid with a 2 ½-length victory on a sloppy track in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 5. He followed it up with a half-length win in the slop in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 19.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was a 3-5 favorite for Saturday's 1 ½-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the three-race series.
Justify is 6-0 in a career that began with his first race in February. He did not compete as a 2-year-old.
Baffert saddled a second horse: 30-1 shot Restoring Hope. Trainer Todd Pletcher also had two horses in the field — 8-1 Vino Rosso and 30-1 Noble Indy.
The Belmont is known as the "Test of the Champion" for good reason: it's the first and likely last time these 3-year-old colts will be running 1 ½ miles. That distance isn't widely raced in North America and it calls for a combination of stamina and speed. For horses used to training and running at shorter distances it can be like asking them to start over doing something completely different. Often it's the final quarter-mile that does in a contender. Once the horses come out of the final turn, they've still got a 1,097-yard run through the stretch, exhausting for a horse with little or no gas left in the tank. Belmont Park's deep, sandy surface can prove tiring, too. Horses whose pedigrees are based on speed rather than stamina are unlikely to run their best, never mind improve, going 1 ½ miles.
Before Justify, no Triple Crown winner had faced more than seven rivals in the Belmont, having to contend with nine horses.. Justify and Bravazo were the only horses to run in the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. Bravazo finished sixth in the Derby and closed with a rush to take second in the Preakness.
Four of Justify's rivals were resting since the Kentucky Derby a month ago: Free Drop Billy (16th), Hofburg (seventh), Noble Indy (17th), and Vino Rosso (ninth). Coming off a three-week break is Blended Citizen. He was the only horse with experience racing at Belmont Park, having won the Peter Pan there on May 12.
The most rested entry was Gronkowski, having last run on March 30 in England. The colt named for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski brought a four-race winning streak into his U.S. debut.
Besides Bravazo, the only other Preakness horse to take on Justify again was Tenfold. He also made a late charge to grab third in that race. Restoring Hope, who like Justify was trained by Baffert, last ran May 5 but not in the Derby. He finished 12th that day in the Pat Day Mile on the undercard at Churchill Downs. Restoring Hope had a new jockey Saturday since Smith was busy riding Justify.
Justify broke from the No. 1 post in the starting gate. A leading 23 Belmont winners had come out of there before Saturday, including Secretariat. His performance in the 1973 race set a standard that has yet to be matched. Secretariat won by 31 lengths in a record time of 2:24. Saturday's race was run 45 years to the day that Secretariat ended a 25-year Triple Crown drought.
While the rail is the winningest post position in the history of the race, it can be a problem for some horses if they do not break well.
Baffert said earlier this week he was not a fan of the inside post for his horses, no matter what the race.
"I never do like to draw the rail, but my horses seem to live in it," he said Tuesday at Citi Field before throwing out the first pitch at the Orioles-Mets game. "We have it, we can't change it. We'll deal with it."
Justify won the first two legs of the series from the No. 7 post. He ran on sloppy tracks both times.
BUNCHES OF TRIPLES
Justify's Triple Crown comes just three years after American Pharoah, it is not the first time it has happened close together. Gallant Fox, Omaha, and War Admiral accomplished the feat in the 1930s. The 1940s saw Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, and Citation achieve racing immortality. Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed added their names to the list in the 1970s.