Justify had “another smooth, good day” in his final workout Friday before going for the Triple Crown at Saturday’s 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, according to trainer Bob Baffert.
Baffert says Justify, unraced as a 2-year-old and unbeaten in five career trips to the post, has been “moving over the track really well” as he bids to become the 13th horse in history to win horse racing’s Triple Crown.
“This is what a trainer hopes to see the day before his horse runs,” added Baffert, who is seeking his second Triple Crown winner after achieving the feat with American Pharoah in 2015. That was the first time a horse had won all three signature races since Affirmed in 1978.
The odds-on favorite after winning the first two legs, Justify will face nine other 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile race at expansive Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., the largest oval of any thoroughbred racetrack in North America.
If Justify does so, he’ll be just the second horse in history to win the Triple Crown without tasting defeat — the first was the legendary Seattle Slew in 1977.
The Belmont Stakes is the longest of the Triple Crown races, one lap around the main track with a stretch ending in front of a huge and boisterous grandstand full of fans anxious to witness history. It will be the only time Justify, or any of those lined up to try to stop his run to immortality, ever races that far.
Justify, the burly chestnut son of Scat Daddy out of the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, already has proven his mettle, as he became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without a start as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
He followed that historical win with another in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore three weeks ago but is up against another barrier Saturday in the suburbs of the Big Apple: No horse has ever captured the Triple Crown without having started at age 2.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said Wednesday. “It’s been quick. He’s handled everything thrown at him without losing his composure. A lot of horses get nervous, hot. Justify thrives on this.
“Not only is he a great athlete, but he has a great mind. In the Derby, the Preakness, he was in the paddock like he’d handled it all before. He’s a very fearless type of horse.”
If Justify wins, he will set a record for the most opponents beaten in a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown at stake, a remarkable achievement considering he didn’t compete in a race until Feb. 18.
If he loses, he will join an even longer list, becoming the 21st horse since 1944 — and the 13th since 1979 — to win the Derby and Preakness but fall short when competing in the Belmont.
Justify looked right at home on the track during his first workout at Belmont on Thursday, moving around briskly and galloping with authority. He still looks as though he’s carrying good weight, and there are no signs that the demanding road to win three Grade 1 races on three tracks at three distances in just five weeks have worn him down.
Both the Derby and the Preakness — as well as the Santa Anita Derby prior to the Triple Crown races — were run on off tracks, meaning the surfaces were affected by rain. Those conditions are obviously to Justify’s liking.
The forecast for Saturday calls for a 40-percent chance of afternoon showers, with a high of 79 degrees.
Justify has drawn the rail and the No. 1 post position and will most likely use his speed to get the lead under jockey Mike Smith and try to outlast any other horse who tries to go with him or run him down in the stretch.
—Field Level Media