Breaking from the less-than-desired No. 1 post, Smith gunned Justify to the lead and never looked back. And when they questioned Justify's grueling workload - five races in three months, with the Belmont his sixth in less than four months - Baffert said his horse was tough enough to handle it.
Justify is on a winning streak.
With the win, Justify, who did not race as a two-year-old, improved to 6-0 in his young career, which started just 111 days ago.
"Congratulations to Justify on becoming Thoroughbred racing's 13th Triple Crown victor and further congratulations to his ownership connections, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Mike Smith for their superb management and handling of this extraordinary athlete", stated Alex Waldrop, National Thoroughbred Racing Association President and CEO, in a press release.
Baffert will saddle a second horse: 30-1 shot Restoring Hope.
The historic win makes Justify the 13th Triple Crown champion and the first to claim the title since American Pharoah in 2015.
"His mechanics, his motion, just the way he did it. ..."
"American Pharoah loved human contact", Baffert told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Baffert can expect to hear from officials at several tracks eager to lure racing's newest superstar, much like he did with American Pharaoh. After not racing as a 2-year-old, Justify has made up for lost time.More news: Nadal beats Thiem for 11th French Open title
However, Baffert has seen similarities in his stride, his growth and his potential. "I thought maybe, because I could see Gronkowski flying, but he just couldn't get to that horse". "And this horse is getting there".
Justify settled into a good rhythm and turned back a brief early bid from Vino Rosso (Curlin) on the turn. They're just good horses. "That's his job, to protect the other horse and it worked for them".
"The whole time he was so professional", Smith said of Justify after the race.
"Both highs are very high", Mara said. "I mean, this is only the 13th time in history it's ever been done", he said.
It didn't necessarily translate into historic payouts for wagers on the top three horses in NY, however. Though it served Secretariat well, it posed a concern for Baffert, who anxious his muscular colt might get pinned against the rail if he didn't break well. "He seems to kind of like all the attention, so to say, somewhat". "When the half-brother was foaled he was lying in the stall and his legs were so long that I said to Tanya, 'Well, here's one we can't sell'".
The pressure was intense and "Big Money Mike" reacted like a veteran.
An impressive feat for Baffert, racing's affable, most marketable two-legged star, for sure. After a shocking upset loss in the Travers at Saratoga - the biggest summer race restricted to 3-year-olds - there was some question whether Baffert would run him again. The majestic chestnut colt was bred at Glennwood Farm in Versailles, Ky., which is owned by Gunther and run by his daughter, Tanya. Scat Daddy, who ran for trainer Todd Pletcher, died at age 11 in 2015.
Justify had to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
The $2 exacta paid $89, and the $1 trifecta paid $229.74.