Justify wins the Belmont Stakes, earning the coveted Triple Crown

Julio Cortez  AP

Julio Cortez AP

Victor Espinoza - the jockey who won at Belmont atop American Pharoah in 2015 - didn't race in the Belmont Stakes, but said it's never too soon to have another Triple Crown in the sport.

Gronkowski had never raced on dirt, had never raced farther than a mile, qualified but didn't run in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) because he spiked a fever, switched trainers before the race, and only had two published works ahead of the most hard start of his career. Justify gave Baffert his 16th victory as trainer in the Triple Crown series - five Kentucky Derbies, seven Preaknesses and three Belmonts - breaking a tie with D. Wayne Lukas for tops all-time. Among the other recent undefeated Kentucky Derby winners were Smarty Jones, Big Brown and Nyquist.

On a downright boggy Pimlico track at last month's Preakness, it was a little less forgiving.

"I couldn't be happier with the way he looks", Baffert said.

"He just came on there, and he broke every curse there was", he said. "It was meant to be". A crowd capped at 90,000 is expected at Belmont Park. Once he does, jockey Mike Smith will settle Justify much like Elliott tried with Smarty Jones, a similarly speedy colt.

Justify's stunning rise puts him in the pantheon of great horses. Why can't one of these thoroughbreds just win three athletic competitions in a row?

"To become just the 13th victor of the Triple Crown is fantastic and even more special is the fact that he is only the second Triple Crown victor to be bought at public auction after Seattle Slew in 1977". Slew also was a wire-to-wire Belmont victor.

Justify shredded the history books. Fitzsimmons won in 1930 with Gallant Fox and in 1935 with Omaha.

"It never gets old".

It always takes a special horse to complete the American Triple Crown sweep.

Newgate Farm boss Henry Field can't wait for unbeaten Triple Crown victor Justify to stand as a stallion in Australia after watching the colt he helped buy win the Belmont Stakes on Sunday. He celebrated by grabbing white carnations from the winner's blanket and tossing them in the air. A plan will be formulated once the chestnut colt recovers from a compressed schedule that saw him win six races over 111 days since his debut February 18.

Smith and Justify took a curtain call before entering the winner's circle.

"It was a steep learning curve for me personally when we started buying horse in the U.S. market because it was all new to us", said Wallace from the Belmont track.

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ESPN's Darren Rovell reported before the Belmont that Justify's stud rights had been sold to Irish-based Coolmore for $60 million, with a $15 million bonus if he won the Triple Crown.

Chris Mara has won two Super Bowl championships with the New York Giants, and now he can add the Triple Crown to his resume.

"He's as impressive as Justify was as a yearling", Gunther said.

Justify isn't done just yet.

The race will mark the 150th running of the Belmont.

"This horse ran a tremendous race, he's so gifted", Smith said. But Smith turned it into an advantage, gunning Justify to the lead and defying any horse to challenge.

Smith got the colt into a relaxed rhythm under a moderate pace heading into the backstretch, and he had an easy trip from there.

Justify joins a long list of champions Glennwood has bred or co-bred including First Samurai (Grade 1 winner, $915,075 earned); Mo Town (co-bred, Grade 1 winner); My Miss Sophia (second 2014 Kentucky Oaks); Stay Thirsty (co-bred, Grade 1 winner, $1.936 million); Stevie Wonderboy (co-bred, 2005 Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion, $1.059 million); and Tamarkuz (2016 Breeders' Cup dirt mile winner, $1.84 million). They didn't do it.

John Velazquez, who finished in fourth place on Vino Rosso, also saw the move as questionable.

"I've wanted to see that horse's name up there because we knew he was brilliant from day one".

Gronkowski, named for and partly owned by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, returned $13.80 and $7.

Hofburg paid $3.70 to show.

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