It’s the sign of a sporting result going the right way when fully-grown men are hugging each other and dancing around in delight. Such were the scenes at Belmont Park on Saturday when Justify became the 13th winner of the US Triple Crown at the weekend, writes Laura King.
Coming just three years after American Pharoah annexed the series in 2015, there was much less hype this time around, partly because Justify is also trained by Bob Baffert. He and jockey Mike Smith still had to get the job done, however, and with 90,000 people screaming his name before the off, the victory is owed in part to Justify’s superbly-calm temperament.
The flashy chestnut colt never turned a hair in the preliminaries, and came home the cleanest of the ten runner field, never being headed throughout the mile and a half contest. In truth, the race panned out almost too perfectly for him, and he was immediately gifted an easy lead, helped further when stablemate Restoring Hope took a keen hold and tracked out wide, preventing anyone else from taking him on.
The now famous white face of the mighty Justify - what a horse!
Even so, Justify was much the best, and although UK import Gronkowski threw down a challenge in the closing stages, the win never looked in doubt, and he crossed the line a length and three-quarters ahead. The cheering had started from the moment he hit the front, but when he passed the post, Belmont erupted. People wearing yellow foam crowns flung race cards and drinks into the air and mobile phones recording every second of this piece of history. For Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith it was yet another glorious moment in a career which has seen him ride such superstars as Zenyatta and Arrogate. A Triple Crown is on a whole other level, however, and the 52-year-old became the oldest winner of it to date.
“This horse ran a tremendous race,” he said, after his customary praising the skies celebratory gesture. “He’s so gifted, he was sent from heaven, I can’t even begin to describe my emotions just now.”
For those who, like Baffert, had been there to see American Pharoah’s win, which ended a 37- year Triple Crown drought, this was never going to be quite so good. For a Belmont first-timer, it was sublime.