Gronkowski Unlikely Runner-Up in Belmont Stakes

Justify led all the way to win the Belmont Stakes by one and a half lengths and become horse racing's 13th Triple Crown champion and second in four years.

Walden, President and CEO of the Windstar syndicate that owns Justify, praised trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith for pushing the horse to win all three legs of the Triple Crown. Those were the words that Bob Baffert used several weeks ago about his Triple Crown victor Justify, who arrived in his barn last fall without having run a race as a 2-year-old, after running past a pulled muscle and minor knee surgery a year earlier.

Before Saturday's Belmont Stakes, which Justify won by 1 3/4 lengths over surprise second-place finisher Gronkowski, the massive chestnut colt with the white blaze had won the Kentucky Derby by a 2 1/2-length margin, becoming the first since Apollo in 1882 to win the classic without running as a 2-year-old.

Should Justify win the Belmont and become the 13th horse to successfully sweep the Triple Crown, it will be something to watch.

Justify was running with a clear lead, but jockey Mike Smith was not in danger of burning out his horse because none of the other nine competitors in the race were making a serious challenge at that point.

The horse I was intrigued by in that race was Quip... who finished last. American Pharaoh ended a near Four-Decade dry spell in which championship caliber horses almost missed the mark.

Get ready for one of the biggest events in horse racing history! And as in England, to win the Triple Crown in America carries with it the utmost that can be won on our racecourses.

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Smith, with two previous Belmont Stakes victories to his credit, kept it simple, sensing the power in the competitor beneath him.

But Justify, like all the great thoroughbreds, found "another gear", Baffert said.

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

"The raw talent is there, " trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's now become a household name, and I'm looking forward to the next race just as much as you guys are".

Coolmore also purchased breeding rights for 2015 Triple Crown victor, American Pharoah (for $10 million initially, though the deal was pushed to about $30 million with bonuses). Justify becomes the thirteenth Triple Crown victor and the first since American Pharoah in 2015. I'm so proud to be an American and feel this way, it's very emotional for me. "He's sent from heaven". "I thought maybe, because I could see Gronkowski flying, but he just couldn't get to that horse".

Baffert said Sunday that the "plan" for Restoring Hope, which shared the worst odds to win (30-1) with Noble Indy and seventh-place Free Drop Billy, was to "sit off Justify".

"He didn't surprise me he ran this well, after working him a couple of times I was confident he would handle the dirt", Brown said.

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