The morning after his breathtaking victory in the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, presented by NYRA Bets, anointed him racing's 13th Triple Crown winner, a bright-eyed and bouncing Justify was showing no signs of the dizzying campaign that comprised six victories in just under 16 weeks.
"We were watching the replays of the race, and he could have gone around there again," marveled Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who himself achieved an elite status among trainers as only the second - along with the legendary "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons - to saddle two Triple Crown winners. "Today he looked fantastic. He wasn't blowing after the race; he was blowing harder after the Preakness. That was the best work he had coming into all this."
Justify, a strapping chestnut colt with a big white blaze, regally obliged as he was brought from his stall to the grassy area outside Barn 1 at Belmont Park for assorted photo, television and video opportunities, including a segment that was to appear on NBC's Nightly News.
Among the visitors to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont winner on a cool and cloudy Sunday morning were Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who at 52 is the oldest jockey to win a Triple Crown; members of the China Horse Club, which owns the 3-year-old in partnership with WinStar Farm, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners, and thoroughbred owner Ahmed Zayat, whose American Pharoah broke a 37 -year Triple Crown drought under Baffert's tutelage in 2015.
"He's in that private, special club, the Triple Crown, and he established himself as one of the greats," said Baffert. "The thing about him I cannot believe [is] the way he walked in the paddock yesterday. He left the stable barn and I was watching the other horses and they were all skittish and he walked up there just like King Kong. He knew, like he'd been there. He's really intelligent and a smart, smart horse and he knows when to turn it on."
The trainer said Justify would be shipped from Belmont Park to Churchill Downs on Monday morning and get a "week or so" off before figuring out what would be next.
"We'll take a deep breath and see where we are," said Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar. "[Bob] will get Justify right and then we'll make a plan. We're looking forward to sharing him more. He's become a household name and I'm looking forward to his next race as much as [everyone else]."
Justify, a son of Scat Daddy who fetched $500,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2016, is the first Triple Crown winner to never have raced as a 2-year-old. He began his career on February 18 in a maiden race at Santa Anita going seven furlongs, next won an optional claimer at a mile, and then jumped into Grade 1 company with a three-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby. While his victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness both came over sloppy tracks, Saturday's triumph in the "Test of the Champion" came over a dry surface and was accomplished in 2:28.18.
"This is just a special case," said Baffert. "We got him in November after the Breeders' Cup and took our time with him, no rush, and he just came along himself and when he showed us, his first out, that brilliance when he broke his maiden and we knew maybe there was a chance he's going to be something really, really special. We just let him go race by race."
Justify is the only undefeated Triple Crown winner besides Seattle Slew, also a front-running Belmont Stakes winner, in 1977, and joins Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Affirmed (1978) and the aforementioned American Pharoah as the only horses to complete the sweep.