In a span of only four years, La Cañada Flintridge trainer Bob Baffert has turned the horse racing world on its head.
In 2015, Baffert and horse American Pharoah broke a 37-year drought by winning the 12th-ever Triple Crown, thoroughbred racing’s top prize and one of North American sports’ grandest accomplishments.
On an overcast Saturday afternoon, Baffert enjoyed glory and history once again thanks to Justify.
His new sensational 3-year-olt colt ran to victory at the 150th annual Belmont Stakes to clinch a second Triple Crown for his trainer in Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y. with 52-year-old Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith leading Justify across the finish.
"It never gets old," Baffert told NBC’s Kenny Rice right after the triumph. "American Pharoah, he'll always be my first love. For this horse to do it; for Mike Smith, Mike Smith, he deserves something like this."
Justify won by a little less than two lengths on the 1 1/2-mile course to earn $800,000 of the $1.5 million purse.
Any superstition was thrown out the window as Justify became the 13th horse to win a Triple Crown, joining Baffert’s American Pharoah. Justify improved his record to 6-0 and is only the second undefeated Triple Crown winner, something American Pharoah couldn’t accomplish.
“Congratulations to Justify on becoming Thoroughbred racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner and further congratulations to his ownership connections, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Mike Smith for their superb management and handling of this extraordinary athlete,” stated Alex Waldrop, National Thoroughbred Racing Association President and CEO, in a press release. “This achievement elevates Justify into the pantheon of America’s all-time greatest thoroughbreds. A Triple Crown winner is rare enough; an undefeated Triple Crown winner is rarer still.”
As for the famed Baffert, he equals the feat of James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, who was the only other trainer to win two Triple Crowns with horses Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935).
“You know it's just amazing,” Baffert said on NBC. “I'm so proud to be an American, to feel this way, it's very emotional for me. I know I've got a lot of help upstairs.”
Jockey Victor Espinoza rode American Pharoah to the Triple Crown in 2015 and this year Baffert turned to Smith.
Smith, who had never been in serious contention of winning a Triple Crown, became the oldest jockey to win the elusive title with his earlier victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.