The chestnut colt burst onto the national scene with a 2 1/2 -length victory on a sloppy track in the Derby. Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor Justify will be taking to the sprawling oval to try to become racing's 13th Triple Crown victor and second in four years with a victory in the 1 1/2-mile race.
Baffert, 65, for so long intimately familiar with Triple Crown heartbreak after he was thwarted in the Belmont with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998, in a photo finish) and War Emblem (2002), has now won the sport's ultimate price twice in four years.
In the previous 11 runnings of the Belmont, American Pharoah was the only Preakness victor to repeat in Elmont.
The victory also made him the second colt to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in the past 40 racing seasons. Baffert - who has won more Triple Crown races than anyone - complimented his team for helping the horse, which ran three major, testing races in five weeks. He did so with American Pharoah in 2015, ending a 37-year drought.
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Baffert saddled a second horse: 30-1 shot Restoring Hope. Justify's owners are betting on his global appeal. Bravazo finished sixth in the Derby and closed with a rush to take second in the Preakness.
Justify is taking on nine rivals, the largest number that a potential Triple Crown victor has ever faced. Would Justify fall victim to the fatigue and bad luck that had marked 13 failed Triple Crown bids between 1978 and 2015?
For the first time in this Triple Crown series, race day dawned sunny and dry.
Bolt d'Oro ran a disappointing last of 11 horses in the $1.2-million Metropolitan.
Smith has never been aboard a Triple Crown victor, but at 52 he has the shrewdness and knowledge from regularly riding at Belmont Park years ago to rely on. Only Seattle Slew in 1977 was also an undefeated Triple Crown champion.
American Pharoah was offered to the public at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select yearling sale but was bought back by agent David Ingordo for $300,000 on behalf of breeder Zayat Stables. Seventy-six days later, he won the Kentucky Derby, the first horse to do so without having run as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
"Did you see him in the gate, he's standing so still, " Smith said.
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