Justify scored a wire-to-wire triumph under Mike Smith in Saturday's Belmont, winning by 1 3/4 lengths to become racing's 13th Triple Crown victor and the second in four years for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Given the fact that only three years had passed since the last Triple Crown victor, there wasn't almost as much pre-race media hype as there had been in 2015 when American Pharoah won the Belmont to become the first Triple Crown victor since Affirmed in 1978.
Justify didn't start racing until turning 3 years old, becoming the first horse in over a century to win the Kentucky that didn't race as a 2-year-old.
"I believe there's just a flow that guides me and when I follow it, awesome things happen", he said. Justify did that before a rapturous crowd of 90,327, leading wire to wire to cover the 11/2-mile distance in 2:28.18 with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith aboard. "Did you see him in the gate?"
Baffert, 65, for so long intimately familiar with Triple Crown heartbreak after he was thwarted in the Belmont with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998, in a photo finish) and War Emblem (2002), has now won the sport's ultimate price twice in four years. Owners, fans and even rival trainers stopped by to sneak a peek at the undefeated victor of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
How many horses have managed to win the Kentucky Derby without a foundation racing as a 2-year-old?
Before the Belmont, which Justify won by 13/4 lengths over surprise second-place finisher Gronkowski, the massive chestnut colt with the white blaze had won the Kentucky Derby by 21/2 lengths.
One more factor potentially might extend Justify's career into a 4-year-old season.
Justify defied all the odds on his way to achieving Triple Crown immortality. "He just came on there and broke every curse there was".
Justify joins Seattle Slew as the only two undefeated horses to win the Triple Crown.
Justify is taking on nine rivals, the largest number that a potential Triple Crown victor has ever faced. Instead of thanking the horse's owner and the trainer, the very first thing he told NBC while being interviewed on horseback following the race, "First of all, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ". If rain falls and turns it sloppy, Justify should feel right at home.
"I actually thought maybe he's not going to break today".
Baffert will saddle a second horse: 30-1 shot Restoring Hope.
Among those expected to be on hand is New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Vino Rosso is also owned by Todd Pletcher, who has three Belmont wins to his name. Three races over the course of five weeks, all at different locations and ranging from 1 3/16 to 1 1/2 miles, take a toll on even the most experienced horses.