Notes & Quotes From the Belmont Stakes:

(Justify & rider Mike Smith after the Kentucky Derby / Photo Courtesy of Holly M. Smith)

Here are some notes and quotes following Justify’s amazing victory in the Belmont Stakes, capturing the Triple Crown, courtesy of Jenny Kellner, and the NYRA Media Team:

Mike Smith (Jockey of Justify):

“This horse ran a tremendous race,” said Smith, who at 52 is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. “He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing.

“Did you see him standing in the gate?” added Smith, sporting the red-and-gold silks of China Horse Club after having worn the white-and-green colors of WinStar Farm in the Derby and Preakness. “He’s standing so still … I actually thought, ‘He’s not going to break today.’ I mean, he left there like he was going 440 yards in Ruidoso, New Mexico.”

Bob Baffert (Trainer of Justify):

“It’s amazing,” said Baffert, who had Triple Crown near-misses with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002). “It never gets old. American Pharoah, he’ll always be my first love.

“[This horse] was showing me the same signs [as American Pharoah], he showed me that same brilliance. Superior horse. I mean, he could have won every race on the undercard today. He’s just that kind of horse.”

Jose Ortiz (Rider of Gronkowski):

“He broke a bit slow,” said jockey Jose Ortiz aboard Gronkowski, who was making his American debut. “He’s a horse from England. After that, I didn’t have any choice. I had to drop in and save all the ground. He handled the dirt. I worked him twice and he handled it, so I was optimistic. We got a good trip, it worked out well. He broke a bit slow. I wish he would have broke a little bit better.”

Bill Mott (Trainer of Hofburg):

“There was no pace and nobody put any pressure on [Justify] and he kind of walked the dog going around there,” said Bill Mott, Hall of Fame trainer of Hofburg. “They were going slow and [jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.] said he didn’t want to make some crazy move down the backside to go join him, which probably wouldn’t have made any sense. Our horse came running. He ran well. I mean, for not having any pace, he finished up very well.

“Mike [Smith]’s great, obviously, and Justify is probably a great horse,” he added. “I mean, they’re a good combination and they got the job done. We saw another Triple Crown winner. A lot of people are happy about it.”

 

That’s very, very special to do it at Tampa Bay,” an emotional O’Connell said after Well Defined’s two-and-three-quarter length victory from a charging Kentucky Wildcat in 1:42.70 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth, .26 seconds off 2018 winner Flameaway’s stakes record. So Alive finished a distant third, with the 19-10 favorite, Knicks Go, getting nipped for fourth at the wire by Counter Offer.

“He’s had little things that have happened and he’s grown up mentally and physically, and today he showed up with his game face on,” O’Connell said of the Florida-bred Well Defined, a son of With Distinction by Fru Fru, out of Medaglia d’Oro. “I like this horse a lot and the decision (on what’s next) will be up to the owners (Gilbert and Marilyn Campbell’s Stonehedge, LLC), but we just want him healthy. Maybe the (Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9) – who knows.”

“His rear end slipped out from underneath him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile,” she said, “and he was compromised on early position when he ran in the Mucho Macho Man and got bottled up inside. He’s a young horse who is improving, mind-wise and everything-wise.”

KATHLEEN O’CONNELL, TRAINER OF WINNER WELL DEFINED
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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