After several years of hype, hard luck stories and failed attempts, it was fitting that the aptly-named Justify became America’s thirteenth (and Bob Baffert’s second) Triple Crown winner on Saturday evening when taking the Belmont Stakes by just under two lengths from the much-improved Gronkowski (up 15 lb to 122). While Justify was a slightly better than average winner of the race, his performance rating of 124 is some way removed from American Pharoah’s 133-winning effort in 2015.
The 2018 three-year-olds in the U.S. look far from vintage and that is reflected in Justify’s winning rating on the day; his master rating of 127 (achieved in the Kentucky Derby) remains unchanged. There’s usually a couple of later maturing three-year-olds that do well in the States, so there’s a chance that something puts up a higher-rated performance by the end of the season, though it could well be that the biggest threat to Justify this year is in his own stable, the year-older West Coast, who remains the highest rated dirt horse on 132.
It was a quiet weekend on the domestic front, though Haydock’s card featured a performance or two of note, if not of excellence.
God Given (stays on 111) looked the pick on form ahead of the Pinnacle Stakes, a winner at this level in France last year, and she didn't need to be at her best to gain a second Group 3 success, proving very determined though. She's reliable, straightforward and versatile with regards ground, so ought to continue to run well, with connections nominating the Lancashire Oaks as her next port of call. Runner-up Crimson Rosette (up 13 lb to 106) produced an excellent effort in defeat up markedly in grade, while What A Home (up from 98p to 104+) improved again despite not being ideally placed given how the race developed.
D'Bai (remains on 120) made an excellent return to Britain last month, beaten only by a Group 1 performer in The Tin Man at Windsor, and didn't quite need to repeat that performance to gain a first pattern win back at seven furlongs in the John of Gaunt Stakes. The Diamond Jubilee is his likely Royal Ascot target but this seems his level in truth. Runner-up Larchmont Lad (up 7 lb to 118) produced a career-best effort back up in grade in first-time cheekpieces, a really positive ride over this trip perhaps his optimum for all that he is effective at a mile, while the class-dropping Dutch Connection (now 117) underperformed, not helped by trying to come from off the pace.
Achilles Stakes winner Muthmir (remains on 119) has rarely dipped below Group level in later life, but kickstarted his sixth campaign after some of his spark was missing in France and the Temple Stakes, duly finding this liberating and looking a class above for 90% of the race. He was forced to fight for it in the end, partly as Alpha Delphini (114) is himself a pattern-class sprinter but also as he's still not quite the Muthmir of last year.
Elsewhere, Caspian Prince (up 6 lb to 120) produced what is likely to be a season-high performance in the sprint handicap up at Musselburgh. He’s been a terrific money-spinner for his owners over the years and, just seven days after being well held at Epsom, proved at least as good as ever in this similarly valuable affair, coming home by an unexpectedly wide margin given that conditions placed the emphasis so much on speed.
Over at Newmarket, Amazing Red (up 6 lb to 108) and Maksab (also up by the same amount, to 94) improved to win the two main handicaps, however the performance of the day came from debutant Calyx (110p). Not only did he provide Kingman with his first winner as a sire when storming clear in the opener, but he also produced the best performance by a two-year-old so far this season. Connections weren't in a hurry to commit him to Royal Ascot, but he's a pattern performer in the making for sure, and will be more than a match for whatever turns up from there later in the season should connections opt to take the steadier approach.
At Beverley, Jungle Inthebungle (up 16 lb to 94) was making his turf debut in the Two-Year-Old Trophy and showed much improved form to resume winning ways, probably appreciating this stiffer test at the minimum trip than he encountered at Kempton last time. He's a speedily-bred colt, from a family that haven't really trained on, so is probably one to be cracking on with. Kodyanna (up 5 lb to 85p) confirmed her debut promise to get off the mark in the quite valuable Hilary Needler, though with just over three lengths covering the first seven, it's not a race to be taking a high view of. The winner, incidentally, was emulating her dam Jadanna who won the same race in 2012.