NEW YORK – Triple Crown winner Justify will get a well-deserved break and then race again this year, although no date or location has been targeted yet after the colt came out of his Belmont Stakes victory in good condition.
Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm said Sunday the multi-owner group that controls Justify wants to share the horse with the public by racing him. A plan will be formulated once the chestnut colt recovers from a compressed schedule that saw him win six races over 111 days since his debut on Feb. 18.
“Our focus was on each race as they came up,” Walden said after unveiling Justify’s Triple Crown banner inside Belmont Park. “Now we can take a deep breath and just see how the horse is.”
Justify is set to return to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday.
Next Saturday, Justify’s owners, along with trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith, will receive their engraved Kentucky Derby trophies at Churchill. It’s possible Justify could be paraded at the track like American Pharoah after he won the Triple Crown for Baffert in 2015.
“Today he looked fantastic,” Baffert said. “After a week, it starts catching up with them.”
On June 17, Justify will travel to Baffert’s base in Southern California to await his next move.
Among the possibilities: the $1 million Haskell Invitational on July 29 at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park, the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 18 and the $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 25.
Baffert can expect to hear from officials at several tracks eager to lure racing’s newest superstar, much like he did with American Pharaoh.
Chris Kay, president of the New York Racing Association, joked that he would “hold Bode hostage until they make the decision,” referring to Baffert’s 13-year-old son.
“We hope this entire group will be assembled again in late August in Saratoga,” Kay said.
Baffert took American Pharoah to Saratoga in August 2015 and the Triple Crown winner was upset by Keen Ice in the Travers.
“Everybody thinks I’m so opposed to Saratoga,” he said. “I’m not. I’ve had really good luck there.”
The season-ending Breeders’ Cup world championships are in Louisville on Nov. 2-3.
“It’s been the longest, quickest journey,” a hoarse-sounding Baffert said as light rain fell outside Justify’s barn. “We were in the office watching the replay over and over. He’s just an unbelievable horse. We’re just so proud of him. We thought he was that kind of horse but they have to prove it.”
Justify won the Belmont on Saturday by 1 3/4 lengths over 24-1 shot Gronkowski after winning the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths and the Preakness by a half-length. Justify became the first colt in 136 years to win the Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old.
“He ran a large number of races in a short amount of time with no 2-year-old foundation,” said Chad Brown, who trains Gronkowski. “This horse overcame a lot. He was managed so well by Bob and his staff. He’s a remarkable horse to run in all three legs as well as he did.”
Wearing a white blanket advertising his status as the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner, Justify walked laps inside the barn before coming outside to greet a slew of cameras. He pricked his ears at the sound of the shutter clicks and when Baffert led him closer, he playfully bit at one camera.
“Pharoah made so many people feel good,” Baffert said. “This horse, I’m sure there was millions of people screaming at their TV wanting to see it done. People love history being made in sports.”
Justify’s victory silenced the skeptics who believed the colt was due for a loss because of his rushed schedule and close result in the Preakness.
“Opinions die,” Baffert said. “Facts live forever.”
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