Plans? Justify's connections have no plans. Give the guys a break. In a span of a mere 111 days, their amazing 3-year-old Thoroughbred went from racing novice to Triple Crown champion. Let the guys catch their breath.
“It’s the longest, quickest journey we’ve ever been on,” trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday morning.
Baffert was standing in front of Justify’s Belmont Park barn the morning after the colt became the sport’s 13th Triple Crown champion by going wire-to-wire to win the 150th running of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes.
The big, muscular son of the late sire Scat Daddy looked no worse for wear as he received a bath, posed for pictures, then was led by Baffert around the grass area outside Barn 1 for some pictures and impromptu petting.
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“He looks pretty bright,” said Baffert, who with American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018 joined James “Sunny Fitz” Fitzsimmons as the sport’s only trainers to condition multiple Triple Crown winners. “He ate everything like he usually does. He just looks like he’s ready to go again.”
When he will go again, as in race again, is a matter of conjecture. This we do know: Justify is to leave New York on Monday for Churchill Downs in Louisville, where he will stay for approximately a week. After that, who knows.
“I haven’t sat down with Elliott or anything,” said Baffert, referring to majority owner WinStar Farm CEO Elliott Walden, who was also at Belmont’s Barn 1 on Sunday. “We still can’t believe we went through this.”
Baffert has gone through this before. In fact, Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah’s owner, was also at Justify’s barn on Sunday along with son Justin to give their personal congratulations to Baffert and Company.
After Zayat and Baffert teamed to snap the sport’s 37-year Triple Crown drought, American Pharoah took a couple of months off before winning the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Sept. 2.
He followed that with a disappointing second-place finish in the Travers at Saratoga on Sept. 29 before making amends by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Oct. 31. There, having won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont and the Classic, American Pharoah was christened the sport’s first Grand Slam champion.
When the Breeders’ Cup comes to Churchill Downs on Nov. 2-3, might Justify attempt to become the second?
“The Grand Salami?” joked Baffert.
With reports that Coolmore already has a deal to purchase Justify’s breeding rights — Walden declined to address those reports on Saturday — is there a chance the colt might not race again?
“If there’s an issue, just like any horse,” Baffert said Sunday. “But we haven’t talked about that.”
"We're looking forward to sharing him more," Walden said. "He's become a household name and I'm looking forward to his next race as much as [everyone else]."
Meanwhile, they're marveling at the incredible journey of the past four months that led to Saturday’s rousing finish. That the sport got its second post-drought Triple Crown champ so close to the first might have dampened the anticipation, but not the accomplishment.
“You know what I noticed (Saturday), and I noticed this with Pharoah, the people who came here, they knew he was going to get it done,” Baffert said. “No hecklers. Even (son) Bode was disappointed. He said, ‘Dad, no hecklers.’”
Baffert said he was impressed by how Justify professionally walked “like King Kong” into the Belmont paddock. “He’s so intelligent. He knows when to turn it on,” said the trainer.
Post-race, Justify was still rambunctious back at the barn, until the long day and mile-and-a-half race distance took its toll and he “gave in,” according to Baffert, and allowed admirers come up and pet him.
The winning connections then went to King Umberto, a famous pizza place close to the track.
“They had some pizzas made said ‘Justify’ on it and ‘Triple Crown.’ It was pretty cool,” Baffert said.
So, someone asked on Sunday morning, has it sunk in yet?
“A little bit,” said Bob Baffert. “Opinions die and facts live forever. That’s what the Triple Crown is all about.”
Triple Crown champions
Triple Crown race trainer wins