McDonald: Horse Racing Needs Heroes Like Justify And Days Like This One

Horse Racing needs days like this. They need champions like Justify to keep interest in the sport.

Without it, racing flounders and its tracks become extensions of casinos, only staying in business because of slot machines and video poker.

But today, Justify, his jockey Mike Smith, trainer Bob Baffert and owner Elliott Walden captivated the world with a very easy third leg of the Triple Crown, becoming the 13th champion to complete the trifecta.

“I’m just so — it’s a privilege to have a horse like this,” Baffert said. “I mean, it’s — I mean, we’re like the coach, but they’re the athletes and the jockeys get it done. But to me, when you win the Derby five times, I really felt like, wow, I won the Derby. But this is more to me — I wanted to see that horse, his name up there with those greats. If they’re great, they’re going to win the Triple Crown. It takes a great horse to win the Triple Crown.”

The year 1978 was a very long time ago and there were so many near misses over the years that you had to wonder if the Triple Crown would ever be won again. Then 2015 happened and American Pharoah took it. Baffert was there training that horse and now he has another winner in his pocket.

“’I’ve had some really great horses,” Baffert said. “We had Point Given, I really thought he could have easily been here. Horses like that that were — the durability — that’s the thing, and that’s one thing this horse has, American Pharoah has, is not only are they brilliant, they’re fast, but they’re durable, and they have to be taken — this horse was like, you could tell he’s getting better. But they’re two different types. It’s like comparing your kids, which one is faster. But you know, Pharoah was my first Triple Crown winner.”

Horse racing has been considered a dying industry for some time now. The advent of the Internet made it not necessary to go to the park and place the $2.00 bet. Now it all can be done online. Make no mistake. The sport has been hurt by this. Sure there were 90,000 people at Belmont today, but usually sparse crowds come to these famed tracks on normal days. If you’re going to be one of those people that select their horses online then you might as well check out The Winners Enclosure for daily racing tips and insight.

That’s why the sport needs heroes. Justify is one of them. Just looking at the ease the three-year-old had today makes him an all-time great. It makes days like this special and creates a buzz in ensuing years. Think about it. Next year you may be more likely to watch the Kentucky Derby to see if there’s another Justify out there. And then may watch the Preakness to see if there will be another chance like this.

It’s what makes sports so great and why Smith, Baffert and Walden are good for this sport.

And now Baffert will go back to see if he can make history and have a third Triple Crown winner next year.

No matter what happens, that horse will be different than American Pharoah or Justify.

“With American Pharoah, it just looked like it wasn’t going to happen,” Baffert said. “37 years, and you come up here, and I’d been through it, and I just felt more pressure because I felt — look, the Lord has given me another crack at it. I got this great horse, everything is running smooth. But he still has to do it, and then when he finally did it, I was like, everybody else, I was just in awe of it. It was like, I don’t think — I never even cheered for the horse. I was just sort of in shock seeing him do it, and then we did it. So it was different.

“So when we came with this horse, when he won his second out, I was like thinking, I think this is a Derby horse. He could be a Triple Crown horse, man, I’ll get another shot. But he just showed us that raw talent was there. When he broke his maiden before he ran, and then his second out, Mike rode him, and then the Santa Anita Derby, and he just — I’m telling you, the raw talent is there, and he’s doing it — like he’s just — he’s a walk-on. He just came on there, and he broke every curse there was. But it was just — it was meant to be. You know, I meant to get this horse, they were meant to buy him. Everything to me is meant to be.”

And that’s what makes horse racing great and why next year hopefully will bring more excitement.

About the Author

Joe McDonald

Joe McDonald is the founder and former publisher of NY Sports Day. After selling to i15Media in 2020, he serves as the Editor-in-Chief and responsible for the editorial side of the publication. In the past, Joe was the managing editor of NY Sportscene magazine and assistant editor of Mets Inside Pitch. He has covered the Mets since 2004.

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