They said it couldn’t be done!
No horse in the US could win the Kentucky Derby without having run as a 2yo. Certainly no horse could win the Triple Crown. But Justify could. And last night he did.
37 years passed between Affirmed winning the US triple crown in 1978 and American Pharoah in 2015. Now just three years later American Pharoah’s trainer, the silver haired maestro Bob Baffert has done it again with Justify.
Winning the triple crown in the US demands remarkable toughness. Firstly the Kentucky Derby, a 1m2f race with the all the hullabaloo of the biggest race in America. This year run in awfully wet weather and a ‘sloppy’ track. Then two weeks later the horses raced over the 1m1f trip of the Preakness at Pimlico, this year in shockingly bad foggy conditions and then three weeks later they stepped up to the unusual American distance of 1m4f of the Belmont. To run in all three of these races demands toughness. To win them even more so.
When these horses step up to the 1m4f trip no one really knows whether they will stay. The likelihood is they will never again race over such a trip. But Justify led all the way and didn’t stop all the way down the stretch. This mosaic view is a great way to watch the race and hear (and see) commentator Larry Collmus‘ memorable last line “he’s just perfect, and now he’s immortal”, which summed up the occasion brilliantly. This aerial view is also worth watching, as it shows how Justify controlled the race, while also demonstrates the amazing run of runner up Gronkowski, formerly trained by Jeremy Noseda, who was tailed off last Zenyatta style and made a big move rounding the home turn but just couldn’t get on terms.
Incidentally I’ve long wondered why Aidan O’Brien in particular doesn’t send any horses to the Belmont. He has enough horses who are bred to stay, and are thought good enough to run in the Derby. Why not divert 1-2 of them to the Belmont?
In my horse racing travels I’ve been to one leg of the triple crown, when I went to Pimlico to see Shackleford win the Preakness seven years ago, a race Derby winner Animal Kingdom left it too late. The Kentucky Derby is high on my personal racing bucket list. After last night, watching Justify win from the front, and more to the point listening to the New York fans roar him down the stretch I must add the Belmont to that list too. What a noise. What a thrill.
I did go to Belmont for the Breeders Cup in 2005. It was one of the coldest days at the races I’ve ever experienced. The Breeders Cup hasn’t been back there since. Maybe it is about time it did.
When I went to see this year’s Dante, I wondered whether we might see Justify win Triple Crown in the US and Saxon Warrior here. It was not to be. The fact that Justify is just the 13th horse in history to achieve this feat shows how special he must be. When we get a great horse like that we should enjoy him while we can. one thing for sure is that he won’t be around for ever.
Listening to the Racing Post post casts recently I must admit to being disappointed by the way some of the RP tipsters have dismissed American racing as of no interest, whether because of the medication US horses are allowed, or the Dirt tracks. I can’t agree. These big days, big races are part of racing history. And Justify is now in very exalted company. A special horse.