"Oh yeah", exclaimed Baffert with that fun-loving grin of his, "the king is back!"
Justify, a 4-5 favorite, dominated from the start, breaking well from the No. 1 post.
Justify's triumph was a crowning achievement for Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm in Woodford County, the majority owners in a partnership with China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing and SF Racing. He also trained American Pharoah during his run to the record books in 2015.
"Just so blessed that this happened", he told broadcaster NBC.
"Yeah, I belong now", said Smith, who ripped carnations from the garland of flowers draped on Justify after the race and tossed them in the air to celebrate. "When I unloaded him the other day, those horses in that barn went nuts when they saw him".
The reality is the race Gronkowski ran would win quite a few Belmonts, even though the third leg of the Triple Crown is thought to be unkind to deep closers and hasn't produced a last-to-first victor since Jazil in 2006. "It has a different feel". American Pharoah brought in total prize money of $8.7 million-and after retiring, he has commanded a $200,000 fee for each healthy foal he sired. Justify was anything but typical.
It seems only yesterday, but it was actually February 18 that Justify loudly announced his presence in roaring off to a 9 ½-length victory in his Santa Anita debut. He's the first Triple Crown victor to face that many rivals in the 1½-mile Belmont.
Smith, 52, became the oldest jockey to win a Triple Crown. "Bob just did an unbelievable job to do what we've just done". He gave all credit to Justify, saying all he had done was "let a good horse be a good horse". He won the Kentucky Derby by 2½ lengths and then survived a half-length victory in the Preakness, both on sloppy tracks.
Sixteen weeks ago, no one knew what to make of Justify - except Hall of Fame horse racing trainer Bob Baffert. We've been friends for so long and for him to get this at his age is incredible. The California weather is very consistent.
Gronk betting $69 on his horse in a race that was being run on 6/9 was probably one of just two predictable things in a race that had several surprises.
"The great ones", Baffert said after the race, "they just find another gear".
In winning the Kentucky Derby, Justify had lifted the so-called "curse of Apollo" in becoming the first horse since 1882 to win without having run as a two-year-old. I really believe that.
"I was just watching the clock".
Bill Mott, trainer of Hofburg, said he thought his colt ran well but he was disappointed Justify wasn't pressed harder for a faster pace.