Justify shoots for Triple Crown at Belmont Stakes

ELMONT, N.Y. — With wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness already secured, Justify will race to become the 13th horse to capture the Triple Crown next week when he hits the track in Elmont, New York.

The final leg of the Triple Crown is the Belmont Stakes on June 9. The last horse to accomplish the feat was American Pharoah in 2015.

Both American Pharoah and Justify are trained by Bob Baffert, who has won 14 Triple Crown races, tied for most with D. Wayne Lukas. Seven of those wins were at the Preakness.

Justify has won all five stakes races he has run.

He was tested by Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic for most of the race. But Justify took a short lead coming down the home stretch and held off hard-charging Bravazo, who finished second, and Tenfold, who was third.

Good Magic was fourth, just a length back.

“That was a nail-biter. … I’m so happy that we got it done,” Baffert told broadcaster NBC. “He’s just a great horse, to handle all that pressure and keep on running.”

Jockey Mike Smith, 52, became the oldest jockey to win the Preakness. He admitted his horse grew fatigued by the battle with Good Magic.

“He got a little tired. This was his hardest race that he’s had,” Smith said.

At 1 3/16 miles, the Preakness is slightly shorter than the Kentucky Derby, and Bravazo and Tenfold, both of which skipped the race two weeks ago, almost caught Justify at the end.

Heavy fog made it difficult for the TV audience and the 134,487 spectators at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore to see parts of the race.

It also made it hard for Baffert and his team to watch as the horses went down the backside.

“My boys were with me, and they said, ‘I can’t see anything,’ and when I heard my boys (say), ‘He’s making his move,’ I saw the white colors turning for home, and I seen Mike was going on with it, and so he was,” Baffert said.

Elliott Walden, president of racing operations for co-owner WinStar Farms, said when the horses disappeared it seemed like an eternity. And then he could see Smith, in his white uniform.

“I was a little concerned there were three or four horses around him, a little more than I would have hoped, but it was just exciting to see those white silks out,” he said.

Justify was a 2-5 betting favorite. He won in 1:55.93, after leading at every quarter pole — three by a head, twice by a half-length.