Justify with jockey Mike Smith aboard wins the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in ElmontJustify with jockey Mike Smith aboard wins the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
(Reuters) - Justify won the Belmont Stakes in New York on Saturday to claim U.S. thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, becoming just the second horse to achieve the feat since 1978 and the 13th overall.
The favored three-year-old chestnut colt took an early lead he never relinquished as he stormed around the 1.5 mile (12-furlong) course in two minutes 28.18 seconds for the wire-to-wire win at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
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 amid overcast but dry conditions.
The victory marks the second Triple Crown win for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who also won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes with American Pharoah in 2015.
"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.
"He is a superior horse. He could have won every race on the undercard today, he's just that kind of horse."
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.
At 52, Smith is the oldest jockey to ever win the Triple Crown.
"This horse ran a tremendous race. He’s so gifted he’s sent from heaven," Smith said of Justify, who was the 4/5 favorite.
"He's just brilliant."
Saturday's race, the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, marked the fifth time Baffert came to Belmont with a shot at the Triple Crown.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Additional reporting by Andrew Both; editing by Clare Fallon / Ian Ransom)