Impressively, Bob Baffert made the rarest of feats seem almost normal last weekend when, for the second time since 2015, a racehorse he trained won the Triple Crown.
In hardly a ho-hum achievement, Justify became just the 13th horse in the sport’s history to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and finally, on Saturday, the Belmont Stakes.
“I wanted to see [Justify’s] name up there with those greats,” Baffert, a La Cañada Flintridge resident, told reporters at the post-race news conference in Elmont, N.Y. “He’s just a magnificent animal. I’m just glad I got a chance to train a horse like that.”
In 2015, the Baffert-trained American Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought. After Justify’s debut victory Feb. 18, Baffert suggested Justify might be next in horse racing’s most exclusive club.
The big, sturdy chestnut colt won his first three races by a combined 19 lengths and then burst onto the broader scene with a convincing Kentucky Derby victory on a sloppy track on May 8. After he eked out a victory in the fog at the Preakness two weeks later, he kept Baffert believing during his preparation for the Belmont.
“I’ve had some really great horses,” Baffert said. “One thing this horse has that American Pharoah has is not only are they brilliant, they’re fast [and] they’re durable.”
Justify was all of that en route to winning the Belmont by 1¾ lengths on a warm day before an enthusiastic crowd of 90,327. At 6-0, he became the only undefeated Triple Crown champion besides Seattle Slew, and the first to complete the trifecta without having raced as a 2-year-old.
Baffert became only the second trainer to claim the Triple Crown twice, following James E. Fitzsimmons, who helped Gallant Fox and Omaha win it in 1930 and 1935, respectively.
“I’m getting help [from] upstairs,” Baffert said. “I think of my parents, I think of all the good friends I’ve lost, and I know they’re up there. I really believe in that, that they’re helping me out. They’re giving me that little push.”
After the race, members of the horse racing community suggested another Baffert-trained horse, Restoring Hope, ran interference for Justify by forcing any potential threats to go wide if they were going to catch up, which none did.
When asked in the post-race news conference, Baffert denied any plans to have Restoring Hope block for Justify: “Restoring Hope, he has natural speed and his only chance was to be up near the lead in the first wave because he’s a one-dimensional horse. … We were just giving him a chance.”
The New York State Gaming Commission indicated it has no plans to investigate the matter.
It’s unclear yet what’s next for Justify, who has earned $3.8 million in his six races. He could continue racing, as American Pharoah did, but he also could prove lucrative in the breeding shed (since retiring, American Pharoah reportedly has brought in more than $30 million annually in stallion fees).
Baffert will relish having made more history: “I just felt more pressure because I felt, ‘Look, the Lord has given me another crack at it.’ I got this great horse, everything is running smooth, but he still has to do it. And then, when he finally did it, I was like everybody else. I was just in awe of it.”