Thousands of horse racing fans got a close-up look at Triple Crown winner Justify Saturday as the undefeated 3-year-old colt was brought from the barn area to Santa Anita’s paddock and then walked out to the track for photos in the winners’ circle between races Santa Anita Park.
Jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert were also on hand autographing posters for fans with photos from Justify’s wins in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Justify’s name went into the record books as the latest Triple Crown winner less than four months after his racing career was launched Feb. 18 with a 9 1/2-length win at Santa Anita, followed by victories in two other races at the Arcadia race track, including the Santa Anita Derby April 7, before the three Triple Crown races.
“This is where it all started, my home base, the most beautiful track in America,” Baffert said Saturday. He said fans at Santa Anita knew Justify was “something special” when they watched him win the Santa Anita Derby.
“So to be able to bring him back to California, our home base, it means a lot to us,” Baffert said.
Smith, who called the Triple Crown experience “life-changing,” said he thoroughly enjoyed “celebrating an incredible feat that he (Justify) accomplished”
The horse has made nearly $3.8 million in six starts for his connections, who have yet to announce future plans for the colt.
“To win six races in such a short amount of time like he’s just done is an unbelievable feat on his part,” Smith said after the Belmont, which Justify won by 1 3/4 lengths over 24-1 longshot Gronkowski.
Justify is the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown, but just the second undefeated horse to do it, joining Seattle Slew who did it in 1977.
Baffert said Saturday that it was “really cool” watching the fans, including many children, taking their pictures, hoping it was something they’d remember for the rest of their lives.
It’s certainly something Baffert won’t forget.
“It just brings back the memories of what we went through,” he said “… It went by so quickly.”