Saturday 23 June 2018

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'Brilliant' Justify completes Triple Crown

Mike Smith celebrates after partnering Justify to victory in the Belmont Stakes. Photo: Reuters
Mike Smith celebrates after partnering Justify to victory in the Belmont Stakes. Photo: Reuters

Marcus Armytage

Justify became the 13th horse to land the US Triple Crown when the Bob Baffert-trained colt ran out a comfortable winner of the Belmont Stakes in New York on Saturday night to add to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

The unbeaten Scat Daddy colt returned to the winner's enclosure spotless having made all the running. With his raking long stride, the big chestnut was always in control under Mike 'Big Money' Smith, who described him as "sent from heaven".

Justify came home one and three-quarter lengths ahead of Gronkowski, the former Jeremy Noseda-trained colt whose previous win was on the all-weather at Newcastle.He had missed the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs owing to injury.

The first US Triple Crown winner was Sir Barton in 1919 and only 12 more horses have equalled the feat in the next 99 years.

Justify, Baffert's second colt to achieve the feat after the brilliant American Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015, was the first to win all three races having never raced as a juvenile.

Classic

To match American Pharoah, Justify will need to win the Breeders' Cup Classic in November to give him the Grand Slam.

Baffert said: "It never gets old. American Pharoah, he'll always be my first love, and for this horse to do it, and for Mike Smith.

"Mike deserves something like this. There's no more deserving than him. I told him 'welcome to the club'.

"He was showing me the same signs (as American Pharoah), the brilliance, a superior horse. I wanted to see that horse's name up there, because we knew he was brilliant from day one."

A Triple Crown was the only major gap in the 52-year-old jockey's CV.

"Bob has helped me achieve so many of my goals but today, man, he made my dream come true," said Smith.

"He talks about how brilliant his crew is then he just puts an old man out there to sit still, who stays out of the way and lets a good horse be a good horse. He gets into that rhythm, then he takes a breather, then he goes again."

The Queen's Call To Mind, trained by William Haggas, was the popular winner of the Grade Two Belmont Gold Cup on Friday night.

Meanwhile, next year's Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris is a long-term target for Baie Des Iles following her tremendous victory at Auteuil yesterday.

Making her first appearance since finishing down the field when well fancied for the Grand National at Aintree in April, Ross O'Sullivan's star mare produced a fine display to claim the Grade Two Prix des Drags under Paul Townend.

Baie Des Iles, which won twice at the Paris circuit four years ago, was a first runner in France for her trainer.

O'Sullivan said: "It was an unbelievable day, just magic. Those sort of days don't come around too often.

"We really went there just to experience what it was like and be part of it. I don't think any of us really expected that to happen.

"Paul said it took her a while to warm up into it but she locked on going down the back and he was very happy with her then."

Priority

O'Sullivan confirmed another tilt at the Grand National will not be ruled out, but a return to France is seen as the top priority.

He added: "She'll have a holiday now and I suppose her main target would have to be the Grand Steeple next May.

"She won twice at Auteuil as a three-year-old as well and obviously loves the place.

"We'll see how she progresses along but she likes space between her runs and she'll probably have a quiet enough autumn again.

"I definitely wouldn't dismiss the Grand National, but there is huge prize-money on offer in France and the Grand Steeple is a huge pot."

On the domestice scene, the €25,000 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Handicap is the most valuable race on the Roscommon card evening.

Following creditable placed efforts at Navan and the Curragh respectively, the application of a visor helped the Willie McCreery-trained Thiswaycadeaux open her account for the campaign at Sligo three weeks ago and plenty will fancy her to follow up. (© Daily Telegraph, London, and other agencies)

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