And while there was no pent-up anguish this time around to vigorously stoke enthusiasm, Justify, ridden by the 52-year-old ironman Mike Smith, did not disappoint the crowd as he captured the 150th Belmont Stakes and become just the 13th Triple Crown victor.
The New Mexico native won 15 Grade 1 races in 2017, including nine with Bob Baffert, the trainer of Justify and now a two-time Triple Crown victor.
When American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, America hadn't seen one in 37 years.
If Justify beats nine rivals in the 150th Belmont, Bob Baffert would become the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice.
His Belmont winning time was 2:28.18, the fourth-fastest among Triple Crown winners, after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in the slop.
The chestnut colt, ridden by 52-year-old jockey Mike Smith, was first out of the gate and never gave up the lead.
Chad Brown-trained Gronkowski finishes second in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Justify's dominance in a 10-horse field that included Preakness runner-up Bravazo and Derby horses Hofburg (who finished third), Vino Rosso and Free Drop Billy moved Baffert to tears afterward, as his thoughts turned to his late parents and friends he has lost, convinced they've somehow been helping him these last years.
On Saturday, the horse led from beginning to end to capture the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.
After wearing mainly white silks in the previous two triple crown races, Smith on Saturday will don the colors - red with yellow stars - of the China Horse Club, part owner of the three-year-old colt. He won his first three races by a combined 19 lengths, making trainer Bob Baffert a believer. Gronkowski, named for and partly owned by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, returned $13.80 and $7 in his US debut after arriving from England. Justify ended a three-year Triple Crown drought. The Triple Crown winner's yet unnamed half-brother is a yearling at Glennwood and is the spitting image of his older sibling.
"When we came with this horse, when he won his second time out, I was thinking, 'I think this is a Derby horse; he could be a Triple Crown horse, man".
Smith said: "This horse is so gifted - he's sent from heaven. In the modern day we don't get in a rush with these horses", Baffert told USA Today days before the Derby. "He's now become a household name, and I'm looking forward to the next race just as much as you guys are". I'm so proud to be an American and feel this way, it's very emotional for me.
Baffert himself dismissed the conspiracy theories, saying that Restoring Hope "has natural speed". There was a Hall-of-Fame trainer and a Hall-of-Fame jockey, side by side, sharing a moment and celebrating only the second horse to win the Triple Crown with an undefeated record.