Baffert justifies as Hall of Fame
June 12, 2018 3:04 AM
by Steve Davidowitz
Justify is the 13th horse to score a clean sweep of the American Triple Crown.
Of equal import, trainer Bob Baffert added to his existing Hall of Fame credentials by keeping Justify undefeated through that colt’s six career starts – all having occurred since Justify began his career just four months ago.
This was Baffert’s second Triple Crown champion – a feat only matched by the great trainer Jim Fitzsimmons in the 1930’s. Likewise, no one should underestimate the role Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith played with his deft handling through most of Justify’s 2018 victories, including the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Saturday’s 150th running of the Belmont Stakes.
Smith, now 52 years of age, judiciously used Justify’s natural early speed to take control of all three Triple Crown races and he was especially sharp getting the beautifully proportioned son of Scat Daddy to the lead leaving the inside post in the Belmont Stakes. From that moment forward, Smith helped Justify maintain a safe margin over his nine rivals all the way through the testing 1-1/2 mile distance.
While Justify should not be confused with Secretariat and he might not even be the equal of Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown champ American Pharoah, this undefeated colt now will rest on the sidelines until Baffert brings him back out for more high-class racing toward the end of Summer into the Fall.
Among Justify’s most likely targets will be the 2018 Travers Stakes at Saratoga in late August and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in early November. Both of those prestigious stakes are to be run at the classic 1-1/4 mile distance, although only the BC Classic will pit the 2018 Triple Crown Champion against older competition.
At the bottom line, Justify successfully handled several good members of his 3-year-old age group in the 1-1/4 mile Derby, the 1-3/16 mile Preakness and the 1-1/2 mile Belmont to ensure a place in the sport’s Hall of Fame regardless of what he does from this day forward.
Having completed his Triple Crown run in good health, Justify is likely to come back after his freshening to give Baffert and Smith more opportunities to help this colt earn even more respect going forward. Frankly, while I admire Justify’s talent and the way he was brought to and through the Triple Crown, I believe he will need to improve a few lengths to remain undefeated.
The European invader Gronkowski, who finished a good second in the Belmont Stakes for trainer Chad Brown, could pose a legit threat in the Travers. After all, that was Gronkowski’s first try in America and his first beyond the one-mile distance. Moreover, to remain undefeated, Justify will need to reach a higher level of performance when and if he goes in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against the best older horses in training.
After all, he only earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure winning the Preakness at Pimlico on May 19 and a 101 Beyer taking the Belmont Stakes on June 9. Nevertheless, based on his earlier victories, the potential for a forward move definitely is there. After all, Justify did earn a 104 Beyer in his career debut and a high of 107 winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.
All that said, Justify has done exactly what was needed for him to get this far winning three of the most prestigious trophies in the sport and there still seems to be plenty left in his tank. True racing fans are sure to stay closely tuned in to see just how good this colt turns out to be.
Added Notes: There were nine other stakes on the richly endowed Belmont Stakes Day card. Here are the Beyer Figures for most of them.
The Bob Baffert trained Abel Tasman earned a 100 winning the 1-1/16 mile G-1 Ogden Phipps and Baffert’s Hoppertunity won the 1-1/2 mile Brooklyn with a 98, while Monomoy Girl won the one mile Acorn with a 98.
On the turf, Disco Partner earned a 105 Figure winning the 6 furlong Jaipur; Spring Quality scored a 102 winning the 1-1/4 mile Manhattan and A Raving Beauty earned 100 winning the Just A Game at one mile.
Back on the main track, Bee Jersey scored an excellent 109 Figure taking the prestigious Met Mile Handicap, for the day’s top performance figure.