Undefeated Justify on course for Triple Crown bid in June 9 Belmont Stakes
by NYRA Press Office
For the first time in three years, Belmont Park will play host to a Triple Crown hopeful when Bob Baffert attempts to become only the second person in thoroughbred history to train two Triple Crown winners with Justify in the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 9, the final and most demanding leg of the series.
In 2015, Baffert trainee American Pharaoh swept all three races to end a 37-year drought. Now, the Hall of Famer is back in familiar territory with Justify, who will look to add the Belmont Stakes to his victories in the Kentucky Derby and in Saturday's foggy Preakness, won by a half-length over a sloppy and sealed track.
"We knew he wasn't going to coast to the wire," said Baffert, before Justify departed from Pimlico Race Course Sunday morning. "It was close, but for him, what he's done; it's his fifth race, it's pretty incredible still. I don't see why we won't go to the Belmont. As long as he stays like this; he looks good. He looks pretty bright. He ate everything."
Baffert made three Triple Crown attempts finally achieving racing's most elusive feat with American Pharoah. Silver Charm won the first two legs in 1997, as did Real Quiet in 1998, and War Emblem in 2002, before falling short in the third jewel .
"I think it's a little bit different," Baffert continued. "Before, we'd go there thinking it's going to be so difficult and something always goes wrong. I just feel, with this horse, he's so talented, something can go wrong and he'd still win. He's a superior horse. Yesterday, they tried something different and he handled it. He's not one-dimensional."
Justify, a strapping chestnut colt by Scat Daddy, is undefeated in five career starts, including three Grade 1s where he was ridden to victory by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, a two-time Belmont winner with Drosselmeyer (2010) and Palace Malice (2013).Owned in partnership by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners, Justify arrived around 2:30 p.m. ET at Churchill Downs, where he will conduct his major training preparations for the 1 ½-mile "Test of the Champion." He is expected to arrive at Belmont Park the week before the Belmont.
"We'll just get him back and usually go easy on him for the first week," said Baffert, who could join the legendary James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons (Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935) as the only two trainers to campaign multiple Triple Crown winners. "Depending on how he responds, we'll start doing something with him. It's day by day with how we do things."
Justify could face a full field in the Belmont, the centerpiece of the expanded three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival featuring 18 stakes races with $9.4 million in purses. Among them are Bravazo, who was second in the Preakness, and a handful of horses from the Derby who skipped the Preakness including Hofburg (7th), Vino Rosso (9th), and Free Drop Billy (16th). Also awaiting Justify are Grade 3 Peter Pan winner Blended Citizen and Gronkowski, a multiple stakes winner in Europe named for, and co-owned by, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Audible and Solomini, a respective third and 10th in the Derby, are possible for the race, as is Tenfold following his third-place finish in the Preakness.
Third Eye Blind will headline the entertainment lineup for the 2018 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival with trackside pre- and post-race concerts on June 9. Belmont Stakes Day will also include a performance from the hit Broadway musical A Bronx Tale. On Friday, June 8, fans can enjoy a performance from the acclaimed Billy Joel tribute band Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot at the conclusion of live racing.
The post-position draw event for the 2018 Belmont Stakes will be held at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens on the evening of June 5. A live stream will be available at NYRA.com and on the NYRA Now app.
Attendance for Belmont Stakes Day will be capped at 90,000 for the safety and comfort of all guests. With reserved seating and hospitality nearly sold out, any remaining seats and dining options for Belmont Stakes Day are available for purchase exclusively at Ticketmaster.com.
General Admission Tickets for Belmont Stakes Day are available for only $25 through May 31. Beginning on June 1, general admission is $30 while supplies last.
For additional information on the 2018 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, please visit belmontstakes.com and follow us on Twitter for the latest news and updates @BelmontStakes.