Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
Sport | By Wendy Sparks

Justify wins Triple Crown; Gronkowski the horse gets second

Justify wins Triple Crown; Gronkowski the horse gets second

So when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, the hoards of joyous horse racing fans shook Belmont Park, right outside New York City, to its core.

This Saturday, Justify capped off a terrific card at Belmont Park with a front-running 1 3/4-length victory in the 150th Belmont Stakes.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor is the early 4-5 favorite for Saturday's 1 ½-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the three-race series. A flop at the track might make Coolmore, whose US business Ashford Stud also has American Pharoah's breeding rights, more cool on a Triple Crown winner's stock. It was the second Triple Crown for trainer Bob Baffert and the first for jockey Mike Smith. But just three years after American Pharoah reset the clock with his majestic performance at Belmont, the precocious, musclebound Justify shoved his way into thoroughbred racing's most glorified club.

Gronkowski took second place and Hofburg placed in third.

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Won his first race on February 18 at Santa Anita Park by 9-1/2 lengths.

It was the first of five mounts Smith has on the 13-race card. He's never lost a race in his life, and watching him run just once makes it apparent why.

"It was by far his hardest race", his jockey Mike Smith said at the time. Baffert declared that he had a plan that would allow the promising 3-year-old to overcome what seemed to be a hopelessly late start and still qualify for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby.

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Justify, unraced as a two-year-old, signalled his greatness with a Kentucky Derby victory on a rain-soaked Churchill Downs track in May.

All that remained was to prove that he had the toughness and resolve to conquer the longest, most grueling leg of the Triple Crown - the Belmont Stakes.

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. "American Pharoah, he'll always be my first love".

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