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Justify wins Belmont Stakes, becomes 13th Triple Crown winner

Mike Simth aboard Justify (1) leads the pack down the straight away during the running of the 150th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9. Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports1 / 3
Mike Smith aboard Justify pulls away from Jose Ortiz aboard Gronkowski (6) to win the 150th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9. Tommy Gilligan / USA TODAY Sports2 / 3
Mike Smith (left), Bob Baffert (center) and Bode Baffert hold the 150th Belmont Stakes trophy after Justify won the race at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9. Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports3 / 3

ELMONT, N.Y. — Justify won the 150th Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 9, in Elmont, N.Y., becoming the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown and only the second undefeated champion to achieve racing's most prestigious accomplishment.

Starting out of the No. 1 post, jockey Mike Smith navigated Justify from the rail through a field of nine challengers to give trainer Bob Baffert his second Triple Crown winner in the past four years. Baffert also trained American Pharoah, who won the Triple Crown in 2015 to end a 37-year Triple Crown drought.

"This never gets old," an emotional Baffert said after the race.

"American Pharoah, he'll always be my first love. For this horse to do it for (jockey) Mike Smith, he deserved something like this. It feels pretty good.

"(Justify) was showing me the same signs (as American Pharoah)," Baffert told NBC Sports after the race. "He's a brilliant, superior horse. He could've won every race on the undercard today."

The large and muscular Justify, owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing & WinStar Farm, was ridden to victory by the veteran Smith.

Smith, at 52, became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown and gave Baffert a record 15 wins in Triple Crown races.

Justify joins Seattle Slew as the only two undefeated horses to win the Triple Crown.

Justify has won all six of his races. He slogged through muddy conditions to win the Kentucky Derby and then emerged from a dense fog to capture the Preakness Stakes. Conditions were much better Saturday, overcast but dry.

Draped in red and white, Justify got off to a good start, grabbing the early lead and setting a fast pace. Smith slowed the pace midway around the 1 1/2-mile track but maintained a two-length lead heading into the backstretch. He fought off challenges from Vino Ross and Gronkowski and cruised home to history.

Smith said Justify was so calm in the gate that he was worried he might not break. He did and led wire-to-wire.

"This horse ran a tremendous race. He's so gifted," Smith said in a TV interview directly after the race. "He's a gift from heaven. He's just brilliant."

Smith thanked Baffert for giving him the opportunity to ride Justify into the history books.

"He's made a lot of my goals come true but today, he made my dream come true. I appreciate it."

Justify was sired by Champagne Stakes and Florida Derby champion Scat Daddy and was born at Glenwood Farm in Versailles, Kentucky.

From early on, Baffert said it was clear that Justify was special.

"I've wanted to see that horse's name up there because we knew he was brilliant from day one."

With the win, Justify, who did not race as a two-year-old, improved to 6-0 in his young career, which started just 111 days ago.

Some had wondered whether the colt might show signs of fatigue following a busy schedule but that was not the case as he broke from his number one post position and was never seriously challenged by any of the other nine horses.

Justify closed as a 4-5 betting favorite.

The 24-1 long-shot Gronkowski battled from the back of the pack to cross the line second, almost two length's behind Justify, while the 5-1 Hofburg finished third.