Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from the coronation of undefeated Justify as the 13th Triple Crown champion – he joined Seattle Slew as the only unbeaten Triple Crown winners – in the 150thBelmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Belmont Park:
PACE MAKES RACE: More than one participant wished the Belmont Stakes had unfolded differently and that Justify had been pressured on the front end. “Everybody had the opportunity to take their shot. They didn’t do it,” said Bill Mott, trainer of third-place Hofburg. “They let it go too easy.” Irad Ortiz Jr., who rode Hofburg, also was disappointed in the way everything played out. “I was right there on the far turn, but slow fractions helped the winner. I expected a little more pace early on,” he said. It should be noted, though, that Justify moved at a brisker pace than 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah through the opening three-quarters of a mile.
RESPONSIVENESS KEY: What makes Justify great? Jockey Mike Smith noted how well the colt reacts to whatever is asked of him. “Some horses just stay on or some just completely stay off,” Smith said. “But he just listens to everything I say. Every time I want him to just take a breather, I just put my hands back down and he’d settle right back down. And if I squeeze him a little, he’ll jump right back again. We just kept doing that around the last turn.”
GREAT NAME: Justify certainly has a name befitting his stature. Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, who often cites his faith, explained how Justify came to be: “A lot of time we use biblical names and Justify is a term in Romans 9 and 10, which talks about being justified by faith. It was a name that was available, and we looked for that as a great opportunity. Blessed that this horse has a great name.”
MORE THAN A NAME: Gronkowski, named for New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski, showed he has more than his catchy name going for him with his hard-charging runner-up finish. His performance was special considering he had not run since March 30, was making his first start outside Great Britain after being shifted to trainer Chad Brown, and was testing dirt and the mile-and-a-half distance for the first time. “We have some stuff to work on, particularly in getting better position early and stuff like that, but he’s an exciting horse,” Brown said.
NEAR-RECORD BUSINESS: The New York Racing Association reported an all-sources handle of $137,954,895, second highest for a Belmont Stakes Day in history. The record of $151,109,373 was set in 2014, helped by the popularity of California Chrome, a California-bred with attractive white markings known as chrome. All-sources handle was $135,790,321 when American Pharoah took the Triple Crown four years ago.