Having been elevated into the pantheon of America’s modern great racehorses with his sole stirring Preakness Stakes victory over the weekend, the march to New York’s Belmont Stakes and a tilt at the illusive Triple Crown begins for Justify, a horse that is enlivening America.
For Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert it is a path well know. Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) were agonizing near misses in the Belmont Stakes having won the Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes double. American Pharoah (2015) an emphatic triumph. Collectively the four bids make him the most accomplished trainer on the Triple Crown path and the ideal man to guide Justify on his tilt at equine immortality.
It is no easy thing. For all of his undoubted greatness, the weight of history stands tall against Justify. In 144 years, only 24 horses have now won the Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes double, of those, only 12 have gone on to complete the coveted Triple Crown. And only one in the last 40 years.
Belmont’s “The Test of the Champion”, the Belmont Stakes, has crippled the bids of some truly exceptional performers including California Chrome (2014), I’ll Have Another (2012, Big Brown (2008), Smarty Jones (2004), Funny Cide (2003) and War Emblem (2002) since the turn of the millennium alone. But that’s what makes this hero’s story so compelling.
Justify, the chestnut who Baffert labels as “superior” and who is blessed with a physique defined as “muscle on muscle” has emerged like a comet from the blackness. His career is still less than 100 days old but he is already ranked as the best three-year-old in the world and the equal best horse in the United States. His trajectory is taking him into rarified space after only five starts.
Earlier this month the chestnut became one of the most inexperienced winners’ in Kentucky Derby history, casting aside the ‘Curse of Apollo’. He also shook off Baffert’s stomach churning concerns about bottomless tracks when scoring in the wettest Kentucky Derby in history. The Preakness Stakes triumph reinforced Justify’s true grit when the slop and a field of quality performers was accounted for.
Baffert has said his charge exited the Preakness Stakes “bright”. He has previously said Justify will be fit and ready. The trainer of recent greats Arrogate and American Pharoah is never one to hide from a fight. The countdown to the Belmont on Saturday 9th June has already begun. New York will almost certainly define just where Justify’s place in history will be.
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