December 9, 2021

Justify brings dangerous speed to Belmont like American Pharoah

Justify sails over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 5, 2018, to capture the 144th Kentucky Derby (G1) with jockey Mike Smith aboard (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

Justify will seek to become Thoroughbred racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner in the June 9 Belmont Stakes and the early list of probable challengers lacks confirmed front-runners. That’s a potential key advantage for the supremely-talented colt.

A dream trip on the front end with a Triple Crown on the line? We’ve seen it before.

Unbeaten from five starts, Justify has been expertly handled by Bob Baffert, who is the best in the business when it comes to the Triple Crown path. Baffert came up short of winning the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes three times before finally breaking a 37-year drought with American Pharoah in 2015.

Similar to Jusitfy, American Pharoah was no one-dimensional speedball. His first three wins came wire-to-wire but American Pharoah displayed his versatility when settling just off the pace in Arkansas Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby wins. The smooth-striding bay colt eliminated any suspense from post 1 in the Preakness by taking it to rivals from the start, leading every step of the way recording a seven-length tally over a sloppy Pimlico oval, and headed an eight-horse Belmont Stakes field lacking speed.

American Pharoah sped to the fore at the start and after reaching the quarter-mile pole with a 1 ½-length advantage, the Belmont Stakes was effectively over. The Zayat Stables homebred rated on a clear lead and drew off entering the stretch, rolling home to a facile 5 ½-length decision.

Justify has led wire-to-wire in three wins, including last Saturday’s Preakness in which he never caught a breather while racing alongside a classy Good Magic from the start. He displayed incredible determination to prevail on a day when things didn’t set up favorably and I gained a new sense of admiration for the terrific chestnut.

Detractors will be hoping the Preakness knocks something out of Justify. The Belmont marks his sixth start since a February 18 career debut, which translates to an average of 22 days between starts, and we no longer see that type of schedule for top-class performers in this era. It’s a lot to ask for any horse.

But Justify just keeps overcoming all obstacles in his path. He makes his own trip with natural speed and is always focused on the task at hand when the gates open. It’s been a remarkable run so far.

There could be more additions to the line-up over the next two weeks and it’s too early to make any definitive pace projections for the 1 ½-mile classic. But based on early Belmont Stakes probables, Justify appears capable of receiving a favorable trip on the front end as he attempts to add his name to the storied list of Triple Crown winners.