As Justify edges toward Triple Crown glory, trainer Bob Baffert stays calm and collected

“They breathe different air.”

High praise echoed from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert as he compared his current Triple Crown hopeful Justify with his Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh from 2015.

Justify, who has an unblemished record in five career starts, stands just a mile and a half of grueling terrain of Belmont Stakes track away from becoming the 13th horse to ever claim the prestigious title; however, his trainer is almost all-too-familiar with the current situation.

Baffert has trained four previous horses to consecutive Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes wins before entering the Belmont, and all but American Pharaoh fell short of accomplishing the sport’s highest honor. The 2009 U.S. Racing Hall of Fame inductee has won over 2,800 races during his career, but the last leg of the Triple Crown has been the most elusive. Despite winning seven Preakness Stakes and five Kentucky Derbys, Baffert’s horses have only been able to claim the Belmont Stakes twice.

Though Baffert admitted he had his doubts about Justify’s ability to bring him a third victory after watching the American Thoroughbred claim the Woodlawn Vase, after a short talk with his jockey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, his confidence in the 3-year-old returned.

“I thought, ‘maybe this was it. No más,” Baffert recalled of his immediate reactions after Justify won the Preakness. “But then when he came back, Mike Smith was telling me, ‘no I had a lot left in the end…’ Then I felt better about it.”

Jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert answered questions about their race toward history at Santa Anita Park Thursday (Connor McGlynn — Fox Sports West)

Smith detailed that interaction with his horse.

“I tried to give someone a high five and he would’ve left me sitting there if I reached over,” Smith said through laughs while rocking backward to demonstrate the strength Justify pushed him with.

Both Baffert and Smith are currently taking some time away from their prized horse, checking on other clients around the country while Justify remains at Churchill Downs recovering, but will take periodic trips to see him before reconvening in New York during race week.

Justify surges down final stretch for Preakness Stakes glory, shot at Triple Crown

While a win at the Belmont and a second Triple Crown would forever solidify Baffert’s name on the Mt. Rushmore of horse racing, he repeatedly deflects the attention back to the one truly deserving of the praise.

“It’s for the horse. It’s for his legacy,” Baffert said with the Santa Anita Race Track, where Justify made his debut just two months ago, glistening behind him. “It’s a great accomplishment and you know the world is watching. It’s big, it’s a lot of pressure, but you’re just hoping everything goes smooth.”

Justify’s legacy will be sealed at the 150th installment of the Run for the Carnations June 9.

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