Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner on Saturday along with being the first to sweep the three Classics and leave New York undefeated since Seattle Slew in the late 1970’s.
Justify defied the odds after not starting as a two-year-old and, in fact, making his first start in February. By racing standards, that is a lot of racing crammed into a short window.
Trainer Bob Baffert became the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice. Jim Fitzsimmons did it in the early 1930’s back when the Triple Crown really wasn’t a thing. In fact, his 1935 Triple Crown winner, Omaha, actually lost a race in between the Preakness and Belmont. He finished second to Rosemount in the Withers. Interestingly, Omaha was making his fourth start in 35 days when he beat four foes in the Belmont.
With a bit of luck, Baffert would have notched his fifth Triple Crown winner. In 1997, Silver Charm had the lead in the Belmont with 100 yards to go only to be caught by Touch Gold at the wire. In 1998, Real Quiet lost to Victory Gallop by a scant nose in the Belmont to deny him the Triple Crown. In 2001, Point Given ran a flat 5th in the Kentucky Derby. He came back to win the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers and won Horse of the Year honors.
It’s unclear where Justify will race next but it is hard to believe we will see him as a four-year-old. He could run in the Pennsylvania Derby, Travers or Haskell before finishing his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
There is controversy in the way the Belmont unfolded. Trainer Bob Baffert entered relatively hopeless outsider, Restoring Hope, in a puzzling decision. You would think Baffert did not want to hinder his own chances of winning the Triple Crown by entering another runner and one with early speed to challenge the favorite.
Restoring Hope had some rather suspect action early in the race. He weaved in and out and ultimately was allowed to run a straight course into the turn, thereby hindering the runners to his outside as they were attempting to get near Justify early. Most observers felt Restoring Hope was creating havoc while Justify had a clean trip on the inside.
One could simply dismiss this as noise from the tinfoil hat crowd. But there were two other famous incidents like this and both involved Baffert.
In the 2016 Travers, Baffert had Arrogate on the rail and American Freedom in the two post. When the gates opened, Arrogate went to the lead while American Freedom took a right and impeded half of the field. Arrogate went wire to wire.
In 2017, Baffert’s Cupid won the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. His other runner in the race, American Freedom once again, broke from the rail and drifted into three or four runners, including the main speed in the race, Follow Me Crev.
In both incidents, social media was in an uproar and felt it was clearly collusion to allow the more fancied Baffert runner a better chance. It’s unknown if that was what happened on Saturday. Whether Restoring Hope was a blocker for Justify or simply a shadow forcing others to spin out wide while chasing, it just wasn’t a good look.
Play of the Week: It comes on Thursday at Canterbury Park in race 8. It is a maiden allowance for three-year old’s and older. No. 3 Cinco Star is a first time starter for top trainer Mac Robertson. He is a full-brother to the sensational, up-and-coming sprinter Wynn Time, also trained by Robertson. Wynn Time lost photos to superstar sprinter Whitmore in his last two starts.
Cinco Star has some fast works and gets extraordinarily low percentage rider Cecily Evans aboard. Robertson has done this four other times in the last decade at Canterbury. He has put an unknown rider (likely a workout rider for him) up on a “can’t miss” first timer and the horse won. Cinco Star is 3-1 on the morning line. Race 8 will break from the gate at 7:55 PT.