July 16, 2018

Photo montage of Justify’s Triple Crown journey

With JUSTIFY settled back in at trainer Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita Park base in Southern California, now would be a good time to reflect on the undefeated colt’s quest to become the 13th Triple Crown winner.

And what better way to do so than through photos depicting his journey from maiden winner to Triple Crown star?

The build up to the Kentucky Derby (G1) was actually pretty low key for the chestnut son of Scat Daddy. After a 9 1/2-length romp in his maiden debut at Santa Anita on February 18, Justify posted a 6 1/2-length victory against allowance/optional claiming rivals going a muddy mile at the same track on March 11.

Justify cruises to victory against winners in a March 10 allowance/optional claimer with jockey Mike Smith aboard at Santa Anita Park  © BENOIT PHOTO

Off such impressive wins, Baffert threw the inexperienced colt to the wolves when entering him to make his stakes debut in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Justify proved a wolf in sheep’s clothing, though, pulling off a three-length wire job under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith.

Justify and Mike Smith win the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 © BENOIT PHOTO

The Santa Anita Derby win awarded Justify enough points to make the Kentucky Derby field, and the chestnut arrived at Churchill Downs on April 30. He didn’t record any official workouts, but exercised under the famed Twin Spires nearly every day.

Justify arrives at Churchill Downs on April 30 for the 144th Kentucky Derby (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Justify gallops on May 1 at Churchill Downs ahead of the Kentucky Derby (c) Holly Smith Photography
Justify schools under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs on May 2 ahead of the Kentucky Derby (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

Finally, Derby Day 2018 arrived, and it proved a messy one, with showers and rainstorms enveloping Louisville, Kentucky. It proved no deterrent to Justify, who effortlessly handled the mud at Santa Anita in his second start and splashed home in the Run for the Roses just as easily.

Justify leads the 144th Kentucky Derby field home under jockey Mike Smith (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Justify crosses under the rain-shrouded Twin Spires at Churchill Downs en route to Kentucky Derby glory (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Justify captures the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5 under jockey Mike Smith (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Jockey Mike Smith is all smiles after Justify wins the Kentucky Derby (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Justify is surrounded by his connections in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle after taking the Kentucky Derby (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

Following his Kentucky Derby triumph, Justify remained at Churchill Downs until the week of the Preakness Stakes (G1), then shipped May 16 to Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland, for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Trainer Bob Baffert watches as Justify is led into Pimlico on June 16 in advance of the 143rd Preakness Stakes (c) Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Justify takes a spin around Pimlico on June 17, just two days before running in the Preakness Stakes (c) Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

The Preakness proved as messy at the Kentucky Derby in terms of track conditions, but threw in the added barrier of a heavy fog that settled over Pimlico minutes before the Preakness was run. When the field emerged from the gloom, Justify was on top and held for the victory

Justify leads the way in the stretch of the 143rd Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 19 (c) Jon Kral/Maryland Jockey Club
Justify leaps forward to victory in the Preakness Stakes (c) Jon Kral/Maryland Jockey Club
Justify wins the Preakness Stakes under jockey Mike Smith (c) Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Justify and jockey Mike Smith emerge the winners of a foggy running of the Preakness Stakes (c) Matt Wooley/EquiSport Photos
Jockey Mike Smith arranges the Black-Eyed Susan garland on Justify after the colt captured the Preakness Stakes (c) Matt Wooley/EquiSport Photos

Justify left Pimlico only one day after his Preakness triumph and returned to Churchill Downs, where he bedded down to ready for the third and final leg of the Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on June 9. During his time back at Churchill, he recorded a pair of workouts under the Twin Spires.

Trainer Bob Baffert leads Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Justify around the Pimlico shedrow before departing for Churchill Downs (c) Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Justify arrives May 20 at Churchill Downs, just one day after capturing the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Justify breezes a bullet half-mile in :46.80 at Churchill Downs on May 29 (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

Departing Churchill Downs on June 6, Justify journeyed to Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, arriving ready to complete the sweep of the 2018 Triple Crown.

Justify on the flight to New York ahead of the Belmont Stakes (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography
Justify arrives at Belmont Park on June 6 for the Belmont Stakes (c) NYRA/Robert Mauhar/Adam Coglianese Photography
Trainer Bob Baffert leads Justify around the shedrow at Belmont Park after the colt arrived on June 6 for the Belmont Stakes (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

Unlike the Derby and Preakness, Belmont Stakes Day dawned clear and bright. A fast track awaited the nine-strong field but, in the end, the race turned into a Justify lovefest. The chestnut colt grabbed command from the very start and never looked back, cruising home to become only the 13th horse to take all three legs of the famed Triple Crown.

Justify leads the 150th Belmont Stakes field into the stretch at Belmont Park (c) NYRA/Robert Mauhar/Adam Coglianese Photography
Justify lopes home an easy winner of the Belmont Stakes (c) NYRA/Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography
Justify sweeps the 2018 Triple Crown with an effortless win in the Belmont Stakes on June 9 (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography
Jockey Mike Smith celebrates sweeping the Triple Crown after Justify takes the Belmont Stakes (c) NYRA/Adam Mooshian/Adam Coglianese Photography
Justify becomes the 13th winner of the Triple Crown (c) NYRA/Zoe Metz/Adam Coglianese Photography

Trainer Bob Baffert followed the same protocol as he did for the Preakness, shipping Justify to Churchill Downs only a couple days after the Belmont Stakes. The colt arrived under the Twin Spires on June 11, and just five days later was given a hero’s welcome as he paraded before a multitude of fans on the “Downs After Dark” evening program at Churchill.

Justify arrives at Churchill Downs on June 11, two days after sweeping the 2018 Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Justify walks the track over which he captured the Kentucky Derby only one week after completing the 2018 Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Justify parades under the Twin Spires on the “Downs After Dark” program at Churchill Downs on June 16 (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Justify is greeted by racing fans at the “Downs After Dark” program at Churchill Downs (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

Justify’s journey came full circle on June 17, when the colt returned to his conditioner’s Santa Anita base in Southern California. And on June 23, appreciative fans welcomed the colt back as he paraded between races at Santa Anita.

Triple Crown champion Justify delights his hometown fans with a special between-race appearance at Santa Anita Park on June 23 © BENOIT PHOTO
Triple Crown winner Justify parades before the Santa Anita fans © BENOIT PHOTO
Triple Crown champion Justify greets fans at Santa Anita Park on June 23 © BENOIT PHOTO

Now settled back in Southern California, the talented youngster will begin readying for the next step on his racing voyage. His sophomore campaign is expected to end up right back at Churchill Downs in November for a shot at completing the Grand Slam in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Triple Crown hero Justify on the backstretch of Belmont Park after winning the Belmont Stakes (c) Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com

A big shout-out to the amazing photographers who provided such stunning images during the Triple Crown season, and all year round — Adam Coglianese Photography, Benoit Photo, Coady Photography, EquiSport Photos, Holly Smith Photography, Horsephotos.com, and Maryland Jockey Club’s Jim McCue & Jon Kral.

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