By Michael Patricks
The moment of truth has come and just as the Saturday sun begins its descent from the New York skyline, Justify will begin his ascent from the gate to the Belmont Stakes mountain top in hopes of stepping into his calling by becoming the thirteenth Triple Crown winner in horse racing history. Justify drew the inside post assignment and was installed as the overwhelming 4/5 odds-on favorite in the 150th running of the “Test of the Champion”.
Come down to the Jockey Club this Saturday, June 9th to watch and wager on the Belmont Stakes. Doors open at 9 a.m. and post time for the Belmont Stakes is scheduled for 3:37 p.m. Tables are on sale now–call 707-524-6340 for all the information and reserve your spot to witness history in the making. Tell your friends and make plans to join us as the handsome chestnut Justify rendezvous with racing destiny.
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Tough go in the Snow Chief last week as my selection Waya Ed came to grief in mid-stretch while making a belated move into contention. Ironically, his stable mate Take the One O One was the horse who came away with the top prize in a long drive to the wire, fending off a fast-closing Hardboot in the lane. Jockey Tiago Pereira was catapulted from the saddle and slammed to the turf in a horrifying fall but thankfully escaped major injury in what should be deemed a minor miracle. It’s difficult to imagine the range of emotions that Waya Ed and Take the One O One’s owners Jay Em Ess Stables were feeling shortly after the race. My father’s racing silks included the Shakespearean masks of comedy and tragedy on them and I always felt like that was a poignant reflection of not just horse racing ownership, but also emblematic of life in general. When we watch the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, let’s not forget that these magnificent animals are willing to risk their lives for our enjoyment.
The Belmont Stakes
1 & ½ Miles on Dirt for 3 Y/O’s
Race 11: Post time: 3:46 PT
1-Justify 4/5 ML- Given a 4/5 appraisal to become racing’s thirteenth Triple Crown winner. By comparison and for reference, American Pharoah was installed as the 3/5 favorite when he won the Triple Crown in 2015. Fact: Justify has Beyered over 100 four times in five races—the rest of the field has not yet run over 100. Justify is the clear speed of the race and walks into his stall with an estimated value of $60,000,000 with his breeding future in mind. No doubt the Preakness was trench warfare between the big red Adonis and Good Magic and some of his rivals have had additional time to recover between races. Justify can sit off anyone who is hell bent for leather on making the lead and my guess is they will take turns trying to soften him up down the back stretch if possible, much like the 2004 Belmont featuring Smarty Jones and Birdstone. Hofburg may be the beneficiary of those tactics, but it’s my opinion Justify will see it out. As much as I hate endorsing the chalk in any race, I’m not getting off his band wagon now.
2-Free Drop Billy 30/1 ML- His pedigree supports him getting the elongated distance without much difficulty but he lacks the sustained turn of foot needed to be a real factor. His last win was in October as a two-year-old. It would take a complete collapse and combining acts of the most bizarre sets of circumstances to see him pulling clear late; has too much work to do.
3-Bravazo 8/1 ML- The track looks like it may come up wet once again and Bravazo probably wouldn’t mind that. The chief issue with that is that Justify is in the exact same boat of enjoying the off track and so that doesn’t help him make up any lengths on paper against the handsome chestnut. If no one else is going to do the dirty work early on in testing Justify and keeping him honest, then you can expect Bravazo to draw the short straw in doing that. Hats off to D. Wayne Lukas for getting his colt to this point of the season in such good form and as a legitimate player in these races. My wagering view is that Bravazo and Tenfold’s Preakness efforts may be a bit better than looked because Good Magic put the screws to Justify for a solid mile. Respect his merit but I’m going to make him prove it one more time; siding against him getting the glory.
4-Hofburg 9/2 ML- 27/1 in the Derby while finishing seventh and 9/2 in the Belmont; therein lies a bit of a problem for me. It’s well documented he had a tough trip at Churchill and it’s true he did make up some ground despite trouble. He is handled by a Hall-of-Fame trainer in Bill Mott but it’s a bit distressing to me that he’s seen as the second choice in this race. His projected pari-mutuel impact is based entirely on a projection of improvement. It may be reasonable to expect that but I’d rather gamble on that in the 8 to 10/1 neighborhood as opposed to the 9/2 land as a win candidate. Can he win? It’s possible. Would he win this race 15-20 per cent of the time as indicated by his morning line points? I doubt it. Include in the mix but insist on the right price if you’re betting against Justify to make history.
5-Restoring Hope 30/1 ML- Took a solid overhand in the center of the ring in the Pat Day Mile (Grade III) at 7/1 and now takes on an extra four furlongs in the slop once again while facing Grade I runners. Even though I doubt he’s as bad as that last race would indicate, I can’t see him making any real impression in here especially if the track turns up wet; would be a bigger surprise than Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson.
6-Gronkowski 12/1 ML- By Australian-bred Lonhro, Gronkowski originally was pointed for the Kentucky Derby before suffering a minor setback and was forced to miss the race. He’s a true wild card on paper: first time Lasix, first race in the United States, first time on dirt, and first time over a mile. There’s an old adage in horse racing that you should never take too short of a price on a horse doing something for the first time. Well, he’s got multiple hurdles to jump in order to reach any measure of success in this race. If the track is wet, that will also be a big hurdle to overcome (see Mendelssohn’s Kentucky Derby fitting this profile on paper). His trainer is as potent as they come but this is a real big ask; leaving him out.
7-Tenfold 12/1 ML- He ran a good race in the Preakness while chasing some very testing fractions and by Curlin and out of a Tapit mare he should have no problem with the 12 furlongs. He looks on paper like he may be a slowly-maturing colt who has the talent to be a nice older horse later this year. If he takes a big step forward then he could factor into the equation late. But in my mind it will take a combination of that AND Justify faltering under the rigors of his third race in five weeks to see him involved in the final furlong; expect he’ll grow tired of chasing.
8-Vino Rosso 8/1 ML- For whatever reason, I’ve always been a bit hypnotized by him and I can’t quite understand it. Perhaps it’s because unlike many of his rivals outside of Justify, Vino Rosso has the talent and at times as shown the ability to put a big race together. His Wood Memorial yielded a nice figure, although he wasn’t beating anyone of note in the process. The mercurial son of Curlin had a wide voyage in the Derby but never really got his teeth in the race. The five weeks off should give him every chance to be prominent and when he’s right, Vino Rosso has the unique ability to stick to his competition like gum to a shoe. It’s that “under the radar quality” which I believe will allow him to stick it out with Justify through the lane and make the favorite run a bit. Vino Rosso is also one of those horses who is not unlike a bicycle where the harder you pedal, the faster he’ll go; he could step it up on Saturday.
9-Noble Indy 30/1 ML– Backed into the Derby when Lone Sailor and My Boy Jack couldn’t close escrow in the Louisiana Derby thus giving him the tally. He subsequently got his head handed to him in the Run for the Roses when beaten better than 40 lengths at 59/1. The bullets pop out on his last two works but it’s interesting to note Win Star owns a piece of him along with Justify. The fact he also sheds Blinkers tells me he won’t be a rabbit in Justify’s path. Not sure exactly what the strategy will be for him when the gates open. Perhaps he’s going to ride police for the favorite, that’s a possibility. Will need to show a new dimension to factor in the outcome.
10-Blended Citizen 15/1 ML- Respect his workmanlike approach and the fact he’s shipped and run well on various surfaces. Like many, this will be a big step up in class and in distance. Using Core Beliefs as a measuring stick: Blended Citizen beat him by a length and a half in the Peter Pan and Justify beat Core Beliefs by nine in the Santa Anita Derby. That would leave Blended Citizen about seven and a half lengths off Justify given that tale of the tape. Is that gospel? No, it’s obviously not. But given that Blended Citizen’s biggest Beyer is a 90 last time out in the Peter Pan, he will need Justify to have an off day…and then some…if he’s going to pull this off. Should pass tiring horses but he’s got his work cut out.