Another Triple Crown in the books – and a Triple Crown winner to boot – and the dust continues to settle from a memorable 2018 classic season.
The rain and slop the greeted horses, horsemen and fans at Churchill Downs and Pimlico Race Course for the first two jewels subsided for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, thankfully run under perfect conditions. Justify etched his name into racing history with a commanding 1 3/4-length victory to become the 13th Triple Crown winner and second in four years.
Justify’s victory also made Bob Baffert just the second trainer, along with the legendary “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, to condition two Triple Crown winners. Baffert also did it with American Pharoah in 2015. Fitzsimmons scored his double with Gallant Fox in 1930 and Gallant Fox’s son Omaha in 1935. How’s that for a feat?
Speaking of amazing feats, don’t leave Mike Smith off the list, winning the Triple Crown at the age of 52.
Here's the latest edition of The Monday Special to recap some of the action from a busy weekend at Belmont Park.
By the Numbers
10 (at least): repeated slaps with a program to his thigh in a whipping motion by WinStar’s Sean Tugel as he walked briskly to the box area a few minutes before the Belmont Stakes.
3: Exclamation points after the word “wow” in a text sent by Sean Clancy to Ben Gowans after Still Having Fun won the Woody Stephens. (3 more exclamation points than the recipient of the text had ever seen Sean use).
10: Age of Slim Shadey, winner of the 12th race at Belmont Saturday, nearly an hour after Justify won the prior race. The gelding who has now earned $1,265,955 was fourth behind Frankel in the 2011 Two Thousand Guineas.
13: Triple Crown winners after Justify sealed the deal Saturday.
112: Days since Justify ran his first race and when he won the Belmont Stakes.
2:28.18: Justify’s winning time Saturday, the fourth fastest of the 12 Triple Crown winners that ran the Belmont at 1 1/2 miles. The three fastest are Secretariat, American Pharoah and Affirmed.
90,327: Attendance for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes Day card at Belmont Park.
$16,159,584: Belmont Stakes Day on-track handle Belmont Stakes Day.
$137,954,895: All-sources handle for Belmont Stakes Day, second highest all-time and only behind Belmont Day in 2014.
“When he made that move in the far turn, I was like, ‘oh, Mike, oh, Mike, don’t empty that tank, Mike.’ ”
Bob Baffert, trainer of Justify
“What am I thinking right now? How hot I am right now. I’m sweating.”
WinStar Farm’s Kenny Troutt when asked what he was feeling about the Triple Crown victory during post-race press conference
“Just real blessed because you can’t find these horses, they find you.”
WinStar’s Elliott Walden to the same question
“And by the way, they found this horse, he didn’t find them.”
Baffert on the ownership team that bought Justify for $500,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale
“I think he’s the greatest of all time. I just won the Triple Crown, man. He’s my champion.”
Mike Smith on where Justify ranks among the great American Thoroughbreds
“By the way, nobody has asked me about Hoppertunity.”
Baffert on the Brooklyn winner who surpassed $4.6 million in earnings Saturday
“It’s one of those Triple Crowns where I had two really good horses in each race I had the second-best horse and that’s the way it went. That’s the end of the story. Justify is a top horse and he won the Triple Crown, and that’s what horse racing is all about. You’ve got to run against everybody and it only takes one good one to beat you. To come so close in the Triple Crown ... but we ran into a real buzz saw.”
Chad Brown, who saddled Good Magic to a runner-up in the Derby and a fourth in the Preakness and Gronkowski to a runner-up in the Belmont
“You can’t doubt him now, there’s no way. You’ve got to give him credit.”
Bill Mott on Justify
“Is that him?”
University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari when Justify entered the paddock
“I think you have one the best 3-year-old sprinters in the country."
First thing TIHR’s Ben Gowans said April 24 during a phone call with trainer Tim Keefe, three days after Still Having Fun finished sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes
“I’m a little out of my comfort zone running up there on Belmont Day but Sean (Clancy) says I need to be taken out of my comfort zone because it’s good for me.”
Tim Keefe last week when discussing running Still Having Fun at Belmont
“I’m in the grandstand eating a stale $6 bag of popcorn.”
Tim Keefe when asked where he was at 11:00 Saturday morning
“No, probably something reheated at 9:00 when I get home.”
Tim Keefe when asked if he had a celebratory dinner planned
“No, that line is way too long.”
Brad Cox when asked if he still wanted to get a bottle of water just after Monomoy Girl’s win in the Acorn
“What makes a mockery of his breeding is that his dam (the Danehill Dancer mare Memory) was a brilliant 6-furlong mare. And she’s bred a brilliant 2-year-old that hasn’t gone beyond 7 furlongs. So that’s what makes us keep guessing and The Queen gets so much pleasure out of this.”
John Warren, racing manager for England’s Queen Elizabeth II, on Friday’s Belmont Gold Cup winner Call To Mind
The ST Handicappers fared well during Saturday’s Belmont Stakes Day program, combining to pick nine of the 10 stakes winners and collecting some solid cash along the way.
The lone miss of the day came in the first stakes, the $150,000 Easy Goer when Prince Lucky scored a 14-1 upset of Rugbyman, Dark Vader and Mask. Our five handicappers fanned on that one, but came back firing as the long day rolled on.
The group missed the $30 mutuel in the Easy Goer but did not come away without some decent prices. Joe Clancy scored the biggest hit in that department, benefiting from seeing Spring Quality work at Fair Hill and tabbing him in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan. Spring Quality won what could be described as a nine-way photo – 1 3/4 lengths separated the winner and the ninth-place finisher – at 18-1.
Joe also picked Still Having Fun a few races before in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens, along with Sean Clancy and Tom Law, to the tune of a $28 win mutuel.
Overall, John Shapazian and Tom led the way with five winners apiece. Shapazian picked Abel Tasman ($4) in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, Monomoy Girl ($3.20) in the Grade 1 Acorn, Disco Partner ($5.10), A Raving Beauty ($9.30) in the Grade 1 Just A Game and Bee Jersey ($8.50) in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap.
Tom picked Abel Tasman, Monomoy Girl, Hoppertunity ($9.10) in the Grade 2 Brooklyn, Still Having Fun and Justify ($3.60) in the Belmont Stakes.
Joe finished the day with four winners – Disco Partner, Still Having Fun, Spring Quality and Justify. John Cox also picked a quartet of winners – Abel Tasman, Monomoy Girl, A Raving Beauty and Bee Jersey. Sean Clancy picked a pair of winners – Disco Partner and Still Having Fun.
The Belmont Stakes wraps up the spring flat handicapping season, which consists of the Friday-Saturday stakes of the Triple Crown races. Shapazian took top honors with 19 winners, two more than runner-up John Cox. Joe finished third with 15 winners, while Tom (12) and Sean (eight) completed the quintet.
The handicapping picks back up with The Saratoga Special and the group will also be back for Breeders’ Cup Friday-Saturday in November.
Faithful reader – and longtime Saratoga Stryders member – ran into TIHR’s Tom Law near the Saratoga Spa State Park late Sunday morning and submitted this poem later that afternoon:
TRIPLE CROWN WINNER
If we looked around and about
There was some doubt
But Justify never looked back
He owned the track