Here we go.
Only 12 times since Sir Barton won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 1919 has the feat of being a Triple Crown champ been accomplished.
Justify will try to become the 13th horse to topple the monumental task when he takes on nine rivals Saturday in the 150th Belmont Stakes.
After we went from 1978 to 2015 with out a Triple Crown winner, is there a chance we can get the second in three years? Bob Baffert trained American Pharoah, the horse that broke the slump in 2015, and trains Justify.
Mike Smith, one of the top big race jockeys of this generation, has the call again on Justify, so things are lining up pretty good. But the taxing effort it takes to run three pressure races in five weeks is the key once again.
The Belmont is the longest of three races, measuring 1.5 miles, a distance none of the horses has tackled before. We won’t know until the last 200 yards who has gas left in the tank.
Post time for the Belmont is 3:46 p.m. and is the 11th race on the Belmont card.
Let’s run through the field in order of post position.
Justify (4-5): Not a lot to say other than what has been said the last four-plus weeks. Undefeated in five career starts, doing whatever he’s needed to do to win. He breaks from the rail here and that’s a good thing as it will allow him to do whatever he wants in terms of style. Was he tired at the end of the Preakness? I am sure he was, but he was not all out, running just as hard as he needed to. This is the prohibitive horse to beat.
Free Drop Billy (30-1): Did not give him much of a chance in the Derby and he didn’t disappoint, finishing 16th, 41 lengths back. Trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Robby Albarado, the horse has come back with a nice series of works over the Churchill track before shipping to Belmont. That being said, perhaps challenging for fourth place may be the best the connections can hope for here.
Bravazo (8-1): One of the wise guy horses, there are many who will be backing the D Wayne Lukas runner that will be ridden by Luis Saez. The feelings of support mostly come from a second-place finish in the Preakness, just a half-length back. I’m not buying it and think he will be a middle of the pack finisher. He has won twice this year, but the last time was back in mid-February at the Fair Grounds in the Risen Star. He came back with an eighth in the Louisiana Derby and a sixth in the Derby.
Hofburg (9-2): One of the wise guy horses from the Derby – even though he went off at 27-1 – he had nothing but trouble in the race from being brushed at the start to being steadied twice during the race. He still managed to finish seventh, picking off tiring horses in the stretch. He’s been training well in Saratoga for trainer Bill Mott and retains the services of Derby jockey Irad Ortiz for the race. There are a lot of reasons to like Hofburg here as one that could be in contention for the win should Justify falter. He is lightly raced with only three starts this year – twice in March and the Derby – so there should be plenty in the tank.
Restoring Hope (30-1): He has one win in five starts for Baffert and that came in a maiden race in February at Santa Anita. His big run was a third in the Wood Memorial, but as I wrote before the Derby, the New York prep races lack the status of the other preps and is not as strong of races. He deserves every bit of the 30-1 odds he has been assigned.
Gronkowski (12-1): About the best I can say about the Chad Brown runner (he was recently moved to Brown) is that his presence in the race has brought his namesake Rob Gronkowski to attend the race. All six of his starts have been in Great Britain and although he has won four of the starts, this is a big step up.
Tenfold (12-1): Interesting horse for trainer Steve Asmussen. Ricardo Santana, who rode the horse to a third in the Preakness, returns to ride here. He was fifth in the Arkansas Derby, then was off until the Preakness. With only four career starts, he is lightly raced and could be ready to go and a good price. He will sit in third or fourth throughout the race. Looking for a big value play, this may be the one to look at.
Vino Rosso (8-1): A lot of people thought he was the best value play in the Derby, but to me his 9th place finish was indicative of his skill level. He was third, then fourth in very average preps at Tampa Bay, then shipped to New York for the Wood and beat another average field. Back against the big boys in the Derby, he was humbled. We will see what happens in the Belmont, but if he hits the board, count on him ruining my tickets as I won’t have him included. Then again, it is Todd Pletcher as the trainer and Johnny Velazquez rides.
Noble Indy (30-1): The Pletcher runner could be one of the key horses in the race. Javier Castellano rides the horse for the first time and he could be the early speed. If he goes, then it will be interesting to see if Smith takes out Justify or chooses to sit back and wait. The horse was 17th in the Derby but did have a nice run to win the Louisiana Derby.
Blended Citizen (15-1): I actually like this Doug O’Neill horse that will be ridden by Kyle Frey. Frey, who used to ride the Northern California circuit, will be on the horse for the fifth straight race. He loves to come from off the pace, something that is huge in the Belmont with the long stretch run. At what should be tasty odds, this may be a good one to include on your ticket.
So, does Justify get it done?
I will say yes! A lot has been made about how tired he looked at the end of the Preakness, but I think there is a lot they are missing. I don’t think Smith used all the horse had in the race, running just hard enough to win. His margin of victory has indeed gone down in every start, but he is a horse that runs with a lot of heart and that’s something that can’t be trained – a horse either has it or he doesn’t. Justify has looked strong on the track since the Preakness and I say he gets it done and enters the history books.
My tickets: This is one time I am not going to play anything other than a win bet on Justify. I want the horse to win – Triple Crown’s are good for the sport – and I am not a person that likes to root against his money. The Belmont card is loaded so there are a variety of great races to play throughout the day. If you want to play some exotics, take some chances with some value plays. As you can read above, there are options to choose. As mentioned, I am intrigued by Blended Citizen who opens at 15-1. Tenfold is also interesting and getting 9-2 on Hofburg may be as high as you see the rest of this year. Good luck and enjoy the race!
By Dennis Miller