When you train three horses only to come up short three times in a bid for the Triple Crown — none as agonizing as Real Quiet’s loss in 1998, when he lost by a nose — you might start to think that the ship has sailed on winning horse racing’s Holy Grail.
The silver-haired Baffert, who was dressed in a royal blue blazer and scarlet necktie Saturday, while sporting blue shades, cut a noticeable swath around the Belmont grounds before his horse won the mile-and-a-half race and etched his name among horse racing’s legends.
“All week, since the Preakness, we felt really good about this horse,” said Baffert.
In 1998, the Baffert-trained Real Quiet won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to get beaten by a nose by Victory Gallop in the Belmont. The other two Baffert horses to come up short in the last leg of the Triple Crown were Silver Charm (1997) and War Emblem (2002).
American Pharoah finally ended Baffert’s Triple Crown drought three years ago, and Saturday Baffert was back in the winner’s circle, drinking in the cheers and the celebration.
“I was weeping when they interviewed me (after Saturday’s race). I got very emotional. I really think I’m getting help upstairs,” said Baffert. “My parents, all the good friends I’ve lost. I really believe they’re helping me out. Things happen for a reason. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be.”
Baffert didn’t want to compare Justify to American Pharoah, other than to say they both had “durability” as a key trait. He said Justify was “faster” and had “raw talent” the first time Baffert laid eyes on him.
“That raw talent was there,” said Baffert of Justify. “He’s a walk-on, and broke every curse there was.”
Baffert, 65, said the only time he got a little nervous Saturday, was when Justify was charging around the first turn.
“I thought, ‘Oh Mike (Smith), oh Mike. Don’t empty the tank Mike.’ But this horse — the great ones, they just find their gear,” said Baffert.
Baffert’s wife, Jill, got to meet TV host Jimmy Fallon, and Baffert said the whole lead-up to the Belmont had been enjoyable for his family. In the end, Baffert got the brass ring — again.
“It’s a privilege to have a horse like this. I wanted to see that horse, his name up there with those greats. It takes a great horse to win the Triple Crown,” said Baffert.
ON A STEEL HORSE HE RIDES
Bon Jovi lead guitarist Richie Sambora was at the Belmont, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer told the Daily News before the race that “of course Justify” was his pick to win. Sambora said he is friends with Baffert, and that “of course” he was planning to place a wager on the race.
ON TO BELMONT
Rob Gronkowski wasn’t the only Patriot on hand Saturday at the race track. Patriots coach Bill Belichick took in several early races from a second-tier box, but when The News asked if he had a few seconds to talk outside near the paddock, Belichick barked, “No.”... Other notable faces in the crowd were University of Kentucky basketball (and former Nets) coach John Calipari, celebrity chef Bobby Flay and Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, who made the announcement for the jockeys to mount their horses prior to the race.