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Justify bidding for rare Triple Crown sweep in Belmont

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/9/2018 By BETH HARRIS, AP Racing Writer

Video by Reuters

NEW YORK — Three races at various distances on three different tracks over a span of five weeks.

Just 12 horses have swept the Triple Crown, one of the rarest feats in sports.

Justify will try to immortalize his name and join such horses as Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Citation and Secretariat when he runs in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner has been guided to this point by a couple of veterans: trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith. Baffert oversaw American Pharoah's Triple Crown success in 2015 and has used the same methods with Justify. Smith has never been aboard a Triple Crown winner, but at 52 he has the shrewdness and knowledge from regularly riding at Belmont Park years ago to rely on.

The forecast calls for a slight chance of late-day rain with a high near 80 at the scheduled post of 6:46 p.m. ET. A crowd capped at 90,000 is expected for a chance to witness history.

Justify opened his bid with a 2 ½-length victory on a sloppy track in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 5. He followed it up with a half-length win in the slop in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 19.

Here are some things to know for the 150th Belmont Stakes:


The Belmont is known as the "Test of the Champion" for good reason: it's the first and likely last time these 3-year-old colts will be running 1 ½ miles. That distance isn't widely raced in North America and it calls for a combination of stamina and speed. For horses used to training and running at shorter distances it can be like asking them to start over doing something completely different. Often it's the final quarter-mile that does in a contender. Once the horses come out of the final turn, they've still got a 1,097-yard (1,003 meters) run through the stretch, exhausting for a horse with little or no gas left in the tank. Belmont Park's deep, sandy surface can prove tiring, too. If rain falls and turns it sloppy, Justify should feel right at home. Justify might not need to run his absolute best if his rivals struggle to cope with the longer trip. Horses whose pedigrees are based on speed rather than stamina are unlikely to run their best, never mind improve, going 1 ½ miles.


No Triple Crown winner has faced more than seven rivals in the Belmont, so Justify could be the first. He'll have nine horses to contend with. Justify and Bravazo will be the only horses to run in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Bravazo finished sixth in the Derby and closed with a rush to take second in the Preakness. Four of Justify's rivals have been resting since the Kentucky Derby a month ago: Free Drop Billy (16th), Hofburg (seventh), Noble Indy (17th) and Vino Rosso (ninth). Coming off a three-week break is Blended Citizen. He's the only horse with experience racing at Belmont Park, having won the Peter Pan there on May 12. The most rested entry is Gronkowski, having last run on March 30 in England. The colt named for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski brings a four-race winning streak into his U.S. debut. Besides Bravazo, the only other Preakness horse to take on Justify again is Tenfold. He also made a late charge to grab third in that race. Restoring Hope, who like Justify is trained by Baffert, last ran May 5 but not in the Derby. He finished 12th that day in the Pat Day Mile on the undercard at Churchill Downs. Restoring Hope will have a new jockey Saturday since Smith will be busy riding Justify.


Justify will break from the No. 1 post in the starting gate. A leading 23 Belmont winners have come out of there, including Secretariat. His performance in the 1973 race set a standard that has yet to be matched. Secretariat won by 31 lengths in a record time of 2:24. Saturday's race will be run 45 years to the day that Secretariat ended a 25-year Triple Crown drought.


If Justify succeeds in sweeping the Triple Crown just three years after American Pharoah, it wouldn't be the first time it has happened close together. Gallant Fox, Omaha and War Admiral accomplished the feat in the 1930s. The 1940s saw Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault and Citation achieve racing immortality. Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed added their names to the list in the 1970s.

Related slideshows: The 12 horses that have won the Triple Crown (Provided by 24/7 Wall St.)

a person riding a horse: When the 10 horses settle in to the paddock for the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, one of them will be trying to make history. That horse is Justify, winner of the first two legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown -- the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. If the 3-year-old crosses the finish line in first place, Justify will become the 13th horse to win horse racing’s most prestigious honor.American Pharoah was the last horse to win the Triple Crown, capturing horse-racing’s storied trifecta in 2015. Prior to American Pharoah’s triumph, the drought between Triple Crown winners had been on unprecedented 37 years, when Affirmed bested Alydar in all three Triple Crown races in 1978. Secretariat ended the longest previous Triple Crown drought of 25 years in 1973 in winning the Belmont by an astonishing 31 lengths.With Justify on the cusp of horse-racing history, 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed the 12 horses that have won the Triple Crown, according to Kentucky Derby’s comprehensive list.The Belmont, the longest of the three Triple Crown races at 1.5 miles, is considered the true test of champions. Twenty-three times a horse has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to be denied horse racing’s ultimate glory by failing to win the Belmont Stakes in New York.Justify is the overwhelming favorite to cover the Belmont course in first place. The thoroughbred won the 1 3/16-mile Preakness at Pimlico Race Course on May 19 by holding off Bravazo by a half-length on a muddy track. Two weeks earlier, the chestnut-colored colt won the 1.25-mile Kentucky Derby by 2.5 lengths over Good Magic, also on a sloppy course.Justify established his dominance right from the start this year by winning his first three races by a combined 19 lengths. Justify was the first colt to win the Derby without racing as 2-year-old in 136 years.Bob Baffert, who trained American Pharoah, also is the trainer of Justify. Baffert has won 14 Triple Crown races, equaling the all-time total of legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas. .Justify’s jockey is Mike Smith, and at 52 years old he is still considered a big-money rider. Smith has seven Triple Crown race victories to his credit. Last year, he won 15 Grade 1 races, the most since he won 20 back in 1994.Among the other horses scheduled to compete in the Belmont is Bravazo, who challenged Justify in the Preakness and was beaten by a half-length. Tenfold, who finished third at the Preakness, also is a probable at Belmont. The 12 Horses That Have Won the Triple Crown
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