The magnitude of Justify’s achievement in becoming the 13th American Triple Crown hero at Belmont Park on Saturday can be gauged by the fact that he had never even raced prior to Sunday, 18 February this year.
The powerfully built son of Scat Daddy broke all the ‘rules’ when he made all to join Seattle Slew (1977) as an unbeaten winner of the big G1 hat-trick of Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont — with all three Classics run in the space of five weeks.
Justify’s record stands at six starts for six wins, chalked up in a mere 111 days.
Bob Baffert, who also trained the 12th Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, deserves great credit for his handling of Justify and veteran jockey Mike Smith just as many accolades for his superb judgement of pace in front.
The irony was that many had feared the number one gate would be a huge obstacle in Justify’s path to greatness, yet it proved the making of a reputation that will stand for decades.
Smith was compelled to get his mount away smartly from the gate and straight into the lead. He then dictated to his rivals and won by a length and three quarters. He had to do all the work himself.
In the the Global Preview I had highlighted that Darley stallion Lonhro, an Australian-bred Champion in his day, had the chance of completing a long-range international double.
In the event, Impending finished a close seventh in the highly competitive G1 Stradbroke Handicap at Doomben, Brisbane, while his other son, Gronkowski, finished a very creditable second to Justify in the Belmont.
Gronkowski, having his first run in America, missed the start badly and yet made up an enormous amount of ground to be an honourable second to an outstanding winner.
Who knows what he may achieve once he becomes accustomed to the American style of racing, with its emphasis on fast beginnings and sustained speed over all distances.
The profile of racing in America has been raised positively by the exploits of Justify, Baffert and Smith. The question now is what do they do for an encore?