Justify wins Belmont Stakes to become Triple Crown champ

Ready for a Triple Crown effort at Belmont  NEP’s John Roché and NBC Sports Group’s Keith Kice and Tim Dekime

Ready for a Triple Crown effort at Belmont NEP’s John Roché and NBC Sports Group’s Keith Kice and Tim Dekime

"He's just that kind of horse". That horse's name: Gronkowski.

So when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, the hoards of joyous horse racing fans shook Belmont Park, right outside New York City, to its core.

If Justify beats nine rivals in the 150th Belmont, Bob Baffert would become the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice. "He's so gifted", said Mike Smith, 52, the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown in a post-race interview on NBC.

The forecast calls for a high of 80 degrees and cloudy skies. The crowd has been capped at 90,000.

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While the deal might seem rich, sources said Coolmore would make it up by breeding in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, making the horse capable of breeding at least 250 times in his first year.

Justify won the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths and triumphed narrowly at the Preakness Stakes - both races run in sloppy conditions. But Good Magic got the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. That distance isn't widely raced in North America and it calls for a combination of stamina and speed. And they come in short order. Often it's the final quarter-mile that does in a contender. Belmont Park's deep, sandy surface can prove tiring, too.

There were mild bids turning for home. There are also questions if Justify can come out on top on the longer track.

It will be the first time Justify runs on a dry track in the Triple Crown series.

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But Halep dug deep, squaring the final by winning the next two games, as Stephens fired a backhand wide on the first set point. Halep was closing in on the title she craved so much, while Stephens was wilting fast, and a comfortable hold made it 5-0.

Slew, benefitting from three starts at 2, was ideal through eight starts before he passed the Belmont's arduous mile-and-a-half "Test of the Champion".

Several weeks later he competed in the second leg of the three-race trilogy, The Preakness, and won in dominant fashion despite heavy rain and mud slowing the field down.

The full order of finish is as follows: Justify, Gronkowski, Hofburg, Vino Rosso, Tenfold, Bravazo, Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope, Blended Citizen, Noble Indy. The most rested entry is Gronkowski, having last run on March 30 in England.

After wearing mainly white silks in the previous two triple crown races, Smith on Saturday will don the colors - red with yellow stars - of the China Horse Club, part owner of the three-year-old colt.

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His human handlers also made history. Baffert is the second trainer to have multiple Triple Crown champions. He finished 12th that day in the Pat Day Mile on the undercard at Churchill Downs.

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