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Belmont Stakes: Justify wins the Triple Crown

Justify etched his place in racing history on Saturday when he became the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown. He joins Seattle Slew as the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes as an undefeated colt. Bob Baffert became the second trainer to have won the Triple Crown twice. He won with American Pharoah three years ago. “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons won with Gallant Fox in 1930 and his son Omaha in 1935. Gronkowski finished second and Hofburg was third.

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Photos: The 13 Triple Crown winners

Click on this to take a look at the 13 horses who have won thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.

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Justify becomes 13th Triple Crown winner with victory in Belmont Stakes

Justify crosses the finish line to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes.
(Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)

Justify etched his place in racing history on Saturday when he became the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown.

He joins Seattle Slew as the only horses to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes as an undefeated colt.

Bob Baffert became the second trainer to have won the Triple Crown twice. He won with American Pharoah three years ago. “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons won with Gallant Fox in 1930 and his son Omaha in 1935.

Justify’s victory came in dominating fashion with a wire-to-wire victory, winning by a couple lengths.

Justify broke alertly and went to a lead he would never relinquish. Stablemate Restoring Hope tracked him early, followed by Bravazo on the backstretch and Vino Rosso in the homestretch but none were a match for this colt. Jockey Mike Smith never really extended him and finished in a time of 2:28.18, almost four second slower than Secretariat’s record run.

Gronkowski was a surprise second, followed by Hofburg and Vino Rosso.

The Belmont Stakes is considered a difficult race because it’s 11/2 miles, a distance that none of the horses have run before and likely might never run again. But Justify, who exercised twice over the surface after arriving on Wednesday, showed he was every bit ready for the task.

Baffert didn’t get Justify until late last year and he was not raced as a 2-year-old. Until Justify came along no horse that was unraced at 2 had won the Kentucky Derby since 1882 when Apollo did it.

Baffert knew he had something special but he didn’t know how special. Before his first race at Santa Anita, Baffert confided to the track’s racing secretary that he might have the Kentucky Derby winner. If only he knew he had much more than that.

Justify won that first race by 9 1/2 lengths. Now knowing the horse’s potential, Drayden Van Dyke was taken off the colt in favor of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.

Baffert and majority owner Elliott Walden of WinStar pulled a bit of subterfuge in telling everyone that Justify would then run in the Sunland Derby, hoping that they could enter her in an allowance race at Santa Anita. If they said he was pointed to that allowance it was likely that other horses wouldn’t enter and the race would be scratched because of too few horses.

Justify won that race by 6 1/2 lengths.

From there, Baffert had pointed Justify to the Arkansas Derby because he had another potential star in McKinzie set to go in the Santa Anita Derby. McKinzie suffered an injury and Baffert elected to keep Justify at home. It also gave him four weeks to the Kentucky Derby instead of the three if he had run in Arkansas. Justify won the Santa Anita Derby by three lengths.

He went to Churchill Downs as the favorite and romped home with a 2 1/2-length win over a tiring Good Magic and a gaining Audible.

The Preakness, three weeks ago, was probably Justify’s toughest and most impressive race. He got involved in a match-race type scenario with Good Magic from the start, but that took a lot out of him. Justify had enough left to finish the race and hold off an advancing Bravazo. Smith, at the time, said he took the pedal off the gas when he knew he had the race won. The winning margin was half a length.

All of that set up Saturday’s historic Belmont Stakes.

When Baffert won with American Pharoah, he ran the colt in the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth, the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, where he lost, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

First Justify will get some time off and then the ownership group, headed by Walden, will decide what’s next.

Here are the 13 Triple Crown winners (with jockeys):

2018—Justify (Mike Smith)

2015—American Pharoah (Victor Espinoza)

1978—Affirmed (Steve Cauthen)

1977—Seattle Slew (Jean Cruguet)

1973—Secretariat (Ron Turcotte)

1948—Citation (Eddie Arcaro)

1946—Assault (Warren Mehrtens)

1943—Count Fleet (John Longden)

1941—Whirlaway (Eddie Arcaro)

1937—War Admiral (Charles Kurtsinger)

1935—Omaha (William Saunders)

1930—Gallant Fox (Earl Sande)

1919—Sir Barton (John Loftus)

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Baffert picks up two winners on Belmont card

Justify hasn’t run yet but trainer Bob Baffert is already having a very good day.

He teamed up with jockey Mike Smith and owner China Horse Club to win the $750,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles on Saturday. Abel Tasman, winner of last year’s Kentucky Oaks, made a powerful move on the backstretch and swept to a 7½-length win.

“She gets away slow and then she makes that big middle move,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s better to let her do it, if they’re going slow. If they’re going fast and she does it, that’s when I’ve gotten myself in trouble and that’s happened before.”

Last year, Baffert didn’t have a horse in the Belmont Stakes, but he and Smith teamed up to win all four of the stakes they entered. One of them was Abel Tasman, who won the Acorn Stakes, joining West Coast, American Anthem and Mor Spirit in the winner’s circle that day.

“Last year she was part of the Belmont Tour D’Force,” Baffert said. “It’s good to see these great mares back. She’s a champion and you want to see a champion run like that.”

Baffert’s other winner on Saturday was Hopportunity, winning the $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational for older horses going 1½ miles. Under Flavien Prat, he entered the stretch in third and then just bulled his way past the leaders to win by 2¼ lengths.

Hoppertunity is 7 years old and has earned more than $4.6 million.

“He’s like the forgotten horse,” Baffert said. “The stallion farms aren’t calling looking to buy him, even though he’s made all that money, so we’re just having fun with him.”

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Bolt d’Oro finishes last in the Metropolitan

Bolt d’Oro ran a disappointing last of 11 horses in the $1.2-million Metropolitan. He broke alertly and flirted with the lead through the opening half of the milelong race, but he never could seem to get any momentum around the long turn and started to back up in the stretch. Jockey Florent Geroux did not push the Mick Ruis-trained colt through the stretch.

The race was won by Bee Jersey, who just got a nose down in front of Mind Your Biscuits. Bee Jersey paid $8.50 to win.

Bolt d’Oro had an exceptional year, winning the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner Stakes. He got a wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and by some accounts, should have been awarded Horse of the Year based on his previous races. But Good Magic got the 2-year-old Eclipse Award.

Coming off a long layoff, Bolt d’Oro finished second in the San Felipe Stakes and was moved to first when McKinzie was disqualified. He then ran second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby and finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby.

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Belmont field: No. 10 Blended Citizen

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Jockey: Kyle Frey

Owners: SAYJAY Racing, Greg Hall and Brooke Hubbard

Morning line: 15-1

Last race: Won the Peter Pan Stakes

Jon White’s analysis: He is the only horse in this year’s Belmont Stakes to have raced at Belmont Park, winning the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes on May 12. American Pharoah is the lone Triple Crown winner who had not raced previously at Belmont Park, something Justify also is seeking to do this year.

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Belmont field: No. 9 Noble Indy

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Owners: Repole Stables and WinStar Farm

Morning line: 30-1

Last race: 17th in the Kentucky Derby

Jon White’s analysis: A candidate to be a pace factor in the Belmont. He won the Louisiana Derby, but then finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby. Noble Indy, like Vino Rosso, is trained by Pletcher.

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Belmont field: No. 8 Vino Rosso

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: John Velazquez

Owners: Repole Stables and St. Elias Stables

Morning line: 8-1

Last race: Ninth in the Kentucky Derby

Jon White analysis: In an epic renewal of the Belmont, Vino Rosso’s sire, Curlin, lost by a head in 2007 to the filly Rags to Riches (who should be in the Hall of Fame). Vino Rosso finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, but his three-length victory in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct gives him a license to do well in the Belmont. Todd Pletcher trains Vino Rosso. Pletcher has won the Belmont three times (the aforementioned Rags to Riches, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017).

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Belmont field: No. 7 Tenfold

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Jockey: Ricardo Santana, Jr.

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds

Morning line: 12-1

Last race: Third in the Preakness

Jon White analysis: By finishing a respectable third in the Preakness, this lightly raced son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin showed that he certainly is not out of his league in the Belmont. The Preakness was only his fourth career start. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trains Tenfold. Asmussen won the 2016 Belmont with Creator.

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Belmont field: No. 6 Gronkowski

Trainer: Chad Brown

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Owner: Phoenix Thoroughbred

Morning line: 12-1

Last race: Won the Burradon Stakes

Jon White analysis: He’s making his U.S. debut and first start on dirt after racing on turf and synthetic surfaces in England. While there is no doubt there will be those who put some money on him solely because he’s named after the accomplished tight end for the New England Patriots, it seems to me this is an arduous task for the equine Gronk.

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Belmont field: No. 5 Restoring Hope

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Owners: Gary and Mary West

Morning line: 30-1

Last race: 12th in the Pat Day Mile

Jon White analysis: This colt, like Justify, is trained by Baffert. Restoring Hope finished third in the Wood Memorial and 12th in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs. While a Belmont victory would unquestionably rank among the biggest upsets in the history of the sport, it is not out of the question for Restoring Hope to get into the superfecta at huge odds.

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Belmont field: No. 4 Hofburg

Trainer: Bill Mott

Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr.

Owner: Juddmonte Farms

Morning line: 9-2

Last race: Seventh in Kentucky Derby

Jon White’s analysis: He is sired by Tapit, who remarkably has sired Belmont Stakes winners Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017). Hofburg encountered traffic trouble in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby, but was full of run in the stretch to finish seventh before galloping out strongly after the finish. He has a Hall of Fame trainer in Bill Mott, who won the 2010 Belmont with Drosselmeyer.

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Belmont field: No. 3 Bravazo

Trainer: Wayne Lukas

Jockey: Luis Saez

Owner: Calumet Farm

Morning line: 8-1

Last race: Second in the Preakness

Jon White analysis: He rallied late with gusto to finish second in the Preakness. When Bravazo ran sixth in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, it actually was a pretty good effort because of a wide trip and the fact he had not raced since the March 24 Louisiana Derby. Wayne Lukas trains Bravazo. Lukas and Justify trainer Bob Baffert are tied for most Triple Crown race victories; they each have 14. Lukas has won the Belmont four times (Tabasco Cat in 1994, Thunder Gulch in 1995, Editor’s Note in 1996 and Commendable in 2000).

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Belmont field: No. 2 Free Drop Billy

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Robby Albarado

Owner: Albaugh Family Stable

Morning line: 30-1

Last race: 16th in Kentucky Derby

Jon White’s analysis: His worst races have been when they mattered the most. He has never finished worse than fourth except when he ran ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Maybe he will finish third in the Belmont. Dale Romans, who trains Free Drop Billy, has sent out a horse to finish third in the Belmont four times (Nolan’s Cat in 2005 at odds of 20-1, First Dude in 2010 at 5-1, Keen Ice in 2015 at 17-1 and Medal Count in 2017 at 24-1).

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Belmont field: No. 1 Justify

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Mike Smith

Owners: China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, Starlight Racing, Head of Plains Partners

Morning line: 4-5

Last race: Won the Preakness

Jon White’s analysis: I not only believe Justify is going to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes and become this country’s 13th Triple Crown winner, I think there is a good chance he will do so by a comfortable margin.

Many are of the opinion that the greatest performance in the history of American racing was Secretariat’s phenomenal 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes to complete a Triple Crown sweep. Secretariat was a big colt who thrived on Belmont Park’s vast 1½-mile oval. Justify is an even bigger colt who likewise should relish running on such a large oval with its sweeping turns.

Justify’s Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, said earlier this week that Justify stands 16 hands, 3 inches tall and “weighs like 1,270 pounds.” When Secretariat was a 3-year-old, he was meticulously measured on Oct. 22 by Dr. Manuel Gilman, the official veterinarian at that time for the New York Racing Assn. tracks. Secretariat’s height was 16 hands, ½ inch and he weighed 1,131 pounds.

If Justify succeeds in the Belmont, he will be the first Triple Crown winner who did not race as a 2-year-old. If he is victorious in the Belmont, he and Seattle Slew would be the only two horses to win the Triple Crown with an unblemished record. Justify also would become only the second Triple Crown winner sold previously at public auction. Seattle Slew was a $17,500 yearling. Justify was a $500,000 yearling.

The Belmont Stakes pace should be much better for Justify than it was in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. NBC’s Randy Moss has pointed out that no horse in the 144-year history of the Kentucky Derby won it after going the opening quarter-mile as fast as Justify did. Justify was slightly off the lead in a first quarter that was run in 22.24 seconds on a sloppy track. Justify splashed home a 2½-length winner, with Good Magic finishing second. Good Magic was last year’s Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male.

The early pace was not as torrid in the Preakness. Justify ran the initial quarter in 23.11 seconds, again on a sloppy track. But while the Preakness tempo was not as rapid as it had been in the Derby, Justify nevertheless found himself embroiled in a prolonged tussle for the lead with Good Magic that continued all the way until deep stretch. After Justify finally put away Good Magic, he then had to hold off late challenges from Bravazo and Tenfold. While Justify won by only a half-length, it was to his credit that he got the job done without ever getting a breather at any point during the entire 1 3/16 miles.

If, as expected, the early pace in the Belmont is not as fast as it was in the Derby or Preakness, Justify’s opponents could be in big trouble.

Of course, in the 1½-mile Belmont, Justify is being asked to go farther than he ever has before. But so is everyone else in the race. While I would not say Justify’s breeding is the greatest for a 1½-mile race, the blood of numerous past Belmont Stakes winners is coursing through his veins, including Triple Crown winners Count Fleet (1943), Secretariat (1973) and Seattle Slew (1977). These Belmont Stakes winners also are in Justify’s pedigree: American Flag (1925), Johnstown (1939), Bimelech (1940), Native Dancer (1953), Nashua (1955), Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Damascus (1967) and A.P. Indy (1992).

One concern I have is Justify was not the 2-year-old male champion. Six of the last seven Triple Crown winners — Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and American Pharoah — were 2-year-old male champs.

Justify also is being asked to defeat more opponents in the Belmont Stakes than any of the 12 Triple Crown winners. Justify is facing nine horses. Sir Barton defeated only two opponents in the 1919 Belmont, Gallant Fox three in 1930, Omaha four in 1935, War Admiral six in 1937, Whirlaway three in 1941, Count Fleet two in 1943, Assault six in 1946, Citation seven in 1948, Secretariat four in 1973, Seattle Slew seven in 1977, Affirmed four in 1978 and American Pharoah seven in 2015.

Is Justify a cinch to win the Belmont Stakes? Certainly not. Spectacular Bid, one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, was thwarted in his bid for a Triple Crown sweep when he finished third as an overwhelming favorite in the 1979 Belmont. Smarty Jones’ only defeat in nine career starts came in the 2004 Belmont. Big Brown’s lone loss in eight lifetime starts came in the 2008 Belmont.

But while anything can happen in a horse race, I look for Justify to continue his winning ways in the Belmont Stakes and complete a sweep of the coveted Triple Crown. If it happens, Baffert will join the legendary Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons as the only trainers to win the Triple Crown twice. Fitzsimmons won with Gallant Fox in 1930, then with Gallant Fox’s son Omaha in 1935. Baffert won the 2015 Triple Crown with American Pharoah, who prevailed in the Belmont Stakes by an emphatic 5½ lengths. Justify would be Baffert’s third Belmont Stakes winner. Point Given won the 2001 Belmont for Baffert in isolated splendor by 12 3/4 lengths.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 2 Citation; No. 1 Secretariat

The Times horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Rather than separate them out, we combined the final two in the same story. Citation put together a 16-race winning streak, including the Triple Crown races when he won in 1948. Secretariat, well, he’ll always be remembered for his 31-length win in the Belmont.

If you want to read more on Citation and Secretariat, click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 3 Seattle Slew

The Times horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 3 Seattle Slew, who won the Triple Crown in 1977. He took a remarkable journey to get to the Triple Crown but his greatness was never questioned.

If you want to read the Seattle Slew story, click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 4 Count Fleet

The Times horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 4 Count Fleet, who won the Triple Crown in 1943. He was injured during most of the Triple Crown run but still won by a combined 36 lengths. The Belmont Stakes was his last race.

If you want to read the Count Fleet story, click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 5 Affirmed

The Times horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 5 Affirmed, who won the Triple Crown in 1978, the last winner before American Pharoah 37 years later. He won 22 of 29 races but is best remembered for his rivalry with Alydar, who ran a close second in all the Triple Crown races.

If you want to read the Affirmed story, click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 6 War Admiral

The Times horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 6 War Admiral, who won the Triple Crown in 1937. Sired by the great Man o’ War, War Admiral won a remarkable 21 of 25 races.

If you want to read the War Admiral story, click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 7 Whirlaway

The Times horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 7 Whirlaway, who won the Triple Crown in 1941. He will probably reign forever as the most raced champion, having run 60 times and winning 32 of those races.

If you want to read the Whirlaway story, click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 8 American Pharoah

The Times’ horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 8 American Pharoah, whom most of you remember for breaking the 37-year Triple Crown drought. Like Justify, Bob Baffert was his trainer.

If you want to read the American Pharoah story, just click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 9 Gallant Fox

The Times’ horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 9 Gallant Fox, who claimed the yet-unnamed Triple Crown by winning the Preakness first in 1930. He was the only Triple Crown winner to navigate the races in that order.

If you want to read the Gallant Fox story, just click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 10 Assault

The Times horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 10 Assault, who won it in 1946. The interesting thing about this horse was that he was bred in Texas.

If you want to read about Assault, click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 11 Omaha

The Times’ horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and also predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s go to No. 11, Omaha, the son of Gallant Fox, who also won the Triple Crown. He won in 1935, and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons was the trainer.

If you want to read the Omaha story, just click here.

And if you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter. You can sign up here.

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All-time Triple Crown rankings: No. 12 Sir Barton

The Times’ horse racing newsletter recently assembled a panel of experts to rank the 12 Triple Crown winners in order of their ability. There were some interesting and some predictable results. We’re going to bring you the countdown again, in reverse order.

Let’s start with Sir Barton, who was the first winner in 1919. There wasn’t a Triple Crown per se then, but he won the three races.

You can find the Sir Barton here.

If you want to subscribe to the absolutely free L.A. Times horse racing newsletter, you can sign up here.

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What time is the Belmont Stakes?

Want to see a little history made? Want to make sure you’re home to see it? Here’s what you need to know.

Justify’s quest to become the 13th winner of horse racing’s Triple Crown will begin around 6:46 p.m. if you are at Belmont Park in New York.

It’s the usual math after that. It’s 5:46 p.m. if you’re in the Chicago to Texas time zone. The area that houses the Rocky Mountains will see it at 4:46 p.m. And most importantly, it’s 3:46 p.m. in Los Angeles.

Remember, races rarely start right at post time as tracks try and squeeze out every last pari-mutuel dollar they can. So expect the race to go closer to 50 past the hour.

Television coverage on NBCSN starts at 2 and goes until 4 p.m. It’s a great card with six Grade 1 races.

At 4 p.m., coverage shifts to the big-boy NBC network, which seems less interested in any race that isn’t the Belmont Stakes.

The official song is “New York, New York,” which is better than “My Old Kentucky Home” and the dreadful “Maryland, My Maryland.”

And finally, the official drink of the Belmont Stakes is the Belmont Jewel, containing bourbon, pomegranate and lemonade garnished with a red cherry or lemon twist.

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Justify draws inside post against nine challengers in the Belmont Stakes

Justify works out at Belmont racetrack on Friday.
(Peter Foley / EPA /Shutterstock)

It might not have been what trainer Bob Baffert wanted, but in a 1 1/2-mile race, there is plenty of time to fix any mistakes.

Justify drew the No. 1 post for Saturday’s running of the Belmont Stakes, the race that could make him the 13th Triple Crown winner. The rail is considered one of the worst, if not the worst, posts to draw.

Baffert appeared unconcerned when the announcement was made, then pulled out his phone, looked at a message and started laughing with those around him.

This year’s Belmont post-position draw was held at Citi Field in New York, home of the New York Mets. Baffert later threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game between the Mets and Baltimore Orioles.

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Did American Pharoah’s 2015 Triple Crown win temper excitement for Justify’s upcoming Belmont race?

American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza win the 2015 Belmont Stakes, racing's first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
(Julio Cortez)

Justify’s arrival at Belmont Park on Wednesday was treated with all the fascination for detail you might expect from a space launch or even a royal wedding.

His plane left Louisville, Ky., at 10:39 a.m.

It arrived at Long Island MacArthur Airport at 12:25 p.m., 34 minutes early.

The van left for the track at 1:46 p.m.

It arrived at Barn 1, at 2:10 p.m.

Justify stepped off the van at 2:13 p.m.

Despite the media mob and the nonstop sound of cameras whirring, it was a different scene from three years ago, when American Pharoah arrived in the hopes of being the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

The media contingent isn’t quite as big this year, maybe 30% smaller. The security around the barn is more accommodating. Trainer Bob Baffert seemed more relaxed and resigned to whatever outcome awaits Justify’s attempt to become the 13th winner of the Triple Crown on Saturday.

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Hey, is that Ric Flair? No, it’s horse trainer Bob Baffert

Bob Baffert
(Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Trainer Bob Baffert, adorned with a head of white hair, may be the most well-known figure in horse racing, but given the niche nature of the sport, he sometimes seems recognizable but people can’t quite place his name.

“I’m getting a lot more, ‘You’re the horse guy,’ ” Baffert said Friday morning at Belmont Park, where his colt Justify hopes to become the 13th winner of the Triple Crown on Saturday.

“Last night, when the driver picked me up, he said, ‘You look familiar,’ ” Baffert said. “I used to get a lot of [people thinking I was] Ric Flair.”

Flair is a legendary professional wrestler with a mane of white-blond hair. He also was a member of wrestling heel faction the Four Horsemen, which sounds like a group Baffert could be part of.

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Distance is part of the mystique of the Belmont Stakes

Triple Crown hopeful Justify arrives at Belmont Park on Wednesday.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Trainer Bob Baffert was getting impatient Thursday morning waiting for the painfully slow tractors to finish conditioning the track so Justify could start his morning gallop.

Jockey Mike Smith was there to watch exercise rider Humberto Gomez take the colt for his almost 1 1/2-mile jaunt over the Belmont Park racing surface.

“Hey, are you riding in that other [1 1/2-mile] race, the Brooklyn?” Baffert asked Smith, Justify’s regular jockey.

“Nope, I’m not in that race,” Smith said.

“Good, because I’m not sure you have two mile-and-a-half races in you,” Baffert shot back with a laugh.

The obsession with the length of the Belmont Stakes is part of the mystique of this race. It’s probably the only time a horse will run that distance on the dirt. On Belmont Stakes day, the Brooklyn Invitational for older horses also is run over 1 1/2 miles. The Triple Crown races are restricted to 3-year-olds.

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Justify makes last run at Triple Crown history in the Belmont Stakes

Justify is reflected in a barn window after his workout at Belmont racetrack on Friday.
(Peter Foley /EPA / Shutterstock)

The journey started in early February when trainer Bob Baffert walked into the office of Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle to inquire whether there would be enough entrants for an upcoming maiden race.

“I have a horse in there that can win the Kentucky Derby,” Baffert told Hammerle.

Who would have thought Baffert was underselling that horse?

On Saturday at Belmont Park, Justify is looking to join the highest stratum of horse racing immortality by becoming the 13th thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown.

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