Justify went to the post at Belmont Park carrying the hopes of horse racing fans across North America and around the globe who wanted to see history made, and the powerful superstar delivered in grand fashion.
Justify won the 150th Belmont Stakes on Saturday, and he became the 13th Triple Crown winner in thoroughbred racing history.
Starting from the No. 1 post position, Justify was able to break cleanly, and he went right to the front. While avoiding traffic was a good thing for the big, red colt, the one thing that trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith wanted to avoid was a speed duel.
Justify's opening quarter was fast, but none of the other nine horses challenged him, and Smith was able to slow him down after the quarter mile. Once that happened, the race set up perfectly for Justify, and he was never headed in this race.
Every step was a winning one, as Justify won the 1 ½-mile race in wire-to-wire fashion.
Baffert also trained American Pharoah, the horse who won the 2015 Triple Crown. "It's just amazing," Baffert said on the NBC broadcast. "It's very emotional for me. American Pharoah will always be my first love, and this horse is very special.
"He has so much ability. He could have won every race on the undercard, that's how good he is."
Baffert credited his staff for helping to prepare Justify for the grueling Triple Crown run. "I have the most tremendous team working for me," said Baffert. "It was really tough getting him ready because of the amount of work it took to win three races in such a short period of time."
The stretch-running Gronkowski came from last place to finish second in the race, while Hofburg ended the race in third place. Vino Rosso missed getting on the board, as he finished fourth.
2018 Belmont Stakes Results (via NBC Broadcast)
Horse—Distance Behind (Post, Jockey, Trainer)
1. Justify (1, Mike Smith, Bob Baffert) Payout: $800,000
2. Gronkowski—1 ¾ lengths (6, Jose Ortiz, Chad Brown) Payout: $280,000
3. Hofburg—3 ½ lengths (4, Irad Ortiz, William Mott) Payout: $150,000
4. Vino Rosso—3 ¾ lengths (8, John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher)
5. Tenfold—7 ¼ lengths (7, Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen)
6. Bravazo—8 ½ lengths (3, Luis Saez, D. Wayne Lukas)
7. Free Drop Billy—9 ½ lengths (2, Robby Albarado, Dale Romans)
8. Restoring Hope—38 ¾ lengths (5, Florent Geroux, Bob Baffert)
9. Blended Citizen—51 ¾ lengths (10, Kyle Frey, Doug O'Neill)
10. Noble Indy—54 lengths (9, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher)
Justify had a one-length lead over Vino Rosso at the top of the stretch, and while the eventual winner was running well, Smith had not yet asked him to run at full speed.
That's because Belmont Park features the longest stretch run in horse racing. Smith rated his horse efficiently, and he let his horse go as he neared the midway point of the stretch.
At that point, it seemed clear that Justify was going to win, but Gronkowski had a powerful stretch run himself. He finished 1 ¾ lengths behind Justify, and the horse named after the New England Patriots' star tight end had a clear advantage over the rest of the field.
Justify paid $3.60 to win, $3.50 to place, and $2.80 to show. Gronkowski paid $13.80 to place and $7.00 to show, while Hofburg paid $3.70 to show, according to NBC's graphic.
The $2 1-6 exacta paid $89.00, while the $1 trifecta brought home $229.74 to those who played the 1-6-4 combination. The four-horse $1 superfecta of 1-6-4-8 paid $1,051.50.