Justify defied all the odds on his way to achieving Triple Crown immortality and in the process highlighted his South African connection, being inbred to SAF-bred Hawaii, who stood at the famous Claiborne Farm.
The late bloomer won the 150th Belmont Stakes in New York by 1¾ lengths on Saturday, leading all the way to give the sport its 13th Triple Crown champion. American Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015, and now just three years later, racing is celebrating another sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Justify won the Belmont starting from the rail. The last Triple Crown from that spot at the Belmont was Secretariat, 45 years ago to the day Saturday.
“The raw talent is there,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He just came on there and broke every curse there was. It was meant to be.”
Justify is just the second horse to capture the Triple Crown undefeated, joining Seattle Slew (1977). Justify, who is 6-0 and is the first horse to sweep the series without racing at age 2, beat nine others to win — more competition than any other Triple Crown winner has beaten in the Belmont. Justify defeated 35 horses across the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Baffert joins “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons as the only trainers to win the Triple Crown twice. Fitzsimmons won in 1930 with Gallant Fox and in 1935 with Omaha. Baffert won in 2015 with American Pharoah.
It was Baffert’s fifth attempt to win the Triple Crown — three more than any other trainer.
“It never gets old,” Baffert said. “American Pharoah, he’ll always be my first love.”
But Baffert also called Justify one of the all-time greats.
It was jockey Mike Smith’s first Triple Crown. At 52, he is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.
“This horse ran a tremendous race. He’s so gifted,” said Smith, who looked to the sky to celebrate after his ride. “He’s sent from heaven. I tell you, it’s just amazing. I can’t describe the emotions going through my body right now.”
Purchased for $500,000, Justify earned $800,000 for his Belmont win, giving him $3,798,000 in his brief career. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite, he ran 1½ miles — the longest race of the series — in 2:28.18.
Hawaii was bred by A. L. Dell of Platberg Stud. He won the East Rand Juvenile Stakes at age 2, and at age 3 won the African Breeders Plate and Chairman’s Handicap. He went on at age 4 to win the Clairwood Winter Handicap, Spring Champion Stakes, and South African Guineas.
Owned by Charles Engelhard, he was exported at age 5 to the USA, where he won the United Nations Handicap, Man O’ War Stakes, Stars And Stripes Handicap, Sunrise Handicap and the Bernard Baruch Handicap.
Whilst at stud at he produced Epsom Derby winner Henbit.