Racing fans had waited 37 years for American Pharoah to win the Triple Crown in 2015, and now Justify has become the second horse to do so in the past 40 years.
"The great ones, they just find another gear", Baffert said of Justify, who improved to 6-0 and joined Seattle Slew as the only horse to claim the Triple Crown with an unbeaten record. At Preakness Stakes, the "Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown", $2.5 million is given out in prize money over the course of a 14-race program, including a $1.5 million purse in the main race and roughly $900,000 for that race's top finisher.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who made his career on the NY racing circuit, piloted a flawless race to give trainer Bob Baffert his second Triple Crown. Saturday's race will be run 45 years to the day that Secretariat ended a 25-year Triple Crown drought.
The way things went this year, don't be surprised to see Smith riding a good one in next year's Triple Crown races. The chestnut colt with a pronounced white blaze won on slop at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness; even on a faster track on a clear day at Belmont, his opponents couldn't outrun him.
Trainer Todd Pletcher also has two horses in the field - 8-1 Vino Rosso and 30-1 Noble Indy. He won his first three races by a combined 19 lengths, making trainer Bob Baffert a believer. Baffert, 65, had less than a year to train Justify who suffered a minor injury and didn't race his second year. "This horse ran a tremendous race, he's so gifted", said Smith, on the NBC broadcast, (h/t ESPN.com).
Justify defied the hard post position along the rail, breaking well and taking the lead within seconds.
Smith thanked Baffert for giving him the opportunity to ride Justify into the history books.
Gronkowski, named for the National Football League player, finished second, having been last for much of the race.
"It's just fantastic", said Baffert, his voice hitching. Baffert is the second trainer to have multiple Triple Crown champions.
As we reported in our Kentucky Derby story, though, the owner of the horse winning the Triple Crown can make far more money in stud fees than just from prize money.
Gronkowski finished second in the race.