A big chestnut colt won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Five weeks ago, Justify won the Kentucky Derby. Three weeks ago, he won the Preakness. So he won the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing. It’s the second Triple Crown in three years, also second Triple Crown in forty years.
The jockey of another big chestnut colt was there watching Justify do it. Ron Turcotte could see the blue and white pole at the side of the track. It is 31 lengths from the finish line, marking the distance by which he and Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont, and the Triple Crown. No horse ever has matched that margin (76 metres) or Secretariat’s track record time.
But Justify won the extraordinarily long race, at 1 1/2 miles, wire to wire. He was first out of the gate, and he kept his lead. For what felt like a long, long time, all the other horses were keeping up with him, just back a bit. Keeping up but not increasing their speed. Still, I was terrified. Someone was going to go into overdrive somewhere in that last half- or quarter-mile. “Pull him back, Mike, he’s got to save something for the stretch.”
Justify 1st, Gronkowski last to 2nd
Mike Smith knows more about riding horses than I do. Justify did have something left. He pulled ahead a bit right near the end, finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Gronkowski. That order of finish was a total surprise. Gronkowski was a long shot who wasn’t even near the pack for much of the race. And then he flew past horses to the front, almost. If you’d bet that unlikely combination, you’d have made some real money.
Justify is the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown in its 99 year history. His name and silks join theirs in the small field at Belmont Park honouring the winners. The silks of red with yellow stars belong to the China Horse Club, co-owners of Justify. In the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, he wore the colours of WinStar Farms, the other owners in the partnership.
With luck, we’ll see Justify run again this year. Maybe the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August and the Breeders’ Cup in November at Churchill Downs. In 2015 American Pharoah won the Breeders’ Cup but finished behind Keen Ice in the Travers.
Justify is the son of Scat Daddy and Stage Magic. He has a lot of Northern Dancer in him, through both parents. 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew is his mother’s great-great-grandsire. A generation back from there on his dad’s side, there’s Big Red, Secretariat. Another few generations back and you’ll see the original Big Red, the big chestnut champion Man o’ War.