February 18, 2019

Justify came into the Belmont Stakes ‘like King Kong’

Justify on the backstretch of Belmont Park after winning the Belmont Stakes (G1) and the Triple Crown on Saturday, June 9, 2018 (c) Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com

Horse racing’s newest Triple Crown winner JUSTIFY was bright-eyed and bushytailed on Sunday, one day after his effortless 1 3/4-length victory in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes (G1).

Before a crowd of 90,327 at Belmont Park, the gleaming chestnut son of Scat Daddy became just the second undefeated winner of the Triple Crown, following in the hoofsteps of the immortal Seattle Slew. The colt made his racing debut on February 18 and in just 16 weeks racked up six wins, including the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1).

“We were watching the replays of the race, and he could have gone around there again,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “Today he looked fantastic. He wasn’t blowing after the race; he was blowing harder after the Preakness. That was the best work he had coming into all this.”

Justify gave Baffert a second Triple Crown after American Pharoah ended the 37-year drought in 2015. Baffert joins the legendary “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons as the only trainers to have saddled two Triple Crown winners.

Some of Justify’s connections – including Baffert, jockey Mike Smith, members of co-owner China Horse Club and American Pharoah campaigner Ahmed Zayat – were on hand Sunday morning as the colt was led out for a meet and greet with fans and news outlets.

“He’s in that private, special club, the Triple Crown, and he established himself as one of the greats,” Baffert said.

“The thing about him I cannot believe (is) the way he walked in the paddock yesterday. He left the stable barn and I was watching the other horses and they were all skittish and he walked up there just like King Kong. He knew, like he’d been there. He’s really intelligent and a smart, smart horse and he knows when to turn it on.”

Trainer Bob Baffert, assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes and jockey Mike Smith with Justify the morning after the colt captured the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Triple Crown at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9, 2018 (c) Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com

Justify – who is campaigned by China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners – is scheduled to ship from Belmont Park to Churchill Downs on Monday. He is booked on a Tex Sutton flight from MacArthur Airport in Islip, New York at approximately 11:30 a.m. (ET) and is expected to land at Louisville International Airport between 1:45-2 p.m. He’ll then van to Churchill, arriving around 2:30 p.m. (ET), according to Churchill Downs’ Director of the Stable Area Steve Hargrave.

Baffert indicated the sophomore will get a “week or so” off before plans are made for his next starts.

“This is just a special case,” Baffert said of Justify’s running six races, four of which were Grade 1s, in such a short time period. “We got him in November after the Breeders’ Cup and took our time with him, no rush, and he just came along himself and when he showed us, his first out, that brilliance when he broke his maiden and we knew maybe there was a chance he’s going to be something really, really special. We just let him go race by race.”

“We’ll take a deep breath and see where we are,” said Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar. “(Bob) will get Justify right and then we’ll make a plan. We’re looking forward to sharing him more. He’s become a household name and I’m looking forward to his next race as much as (everyone else).”

Justify is tentatively scheduled to return to his home base at Santa Anita Park in Southern California on June 17.