Belmont Stakes

2018 Belmont Stakes Recap: Trip Notes and Analysis

Michael Spector

Saturday, June 9, 2018 will now forever be remembered as the day that America witnessed its 13th Triple Crown winner.

Justify, a 3-year-old colt by Scat Daddy, is now a living legend after being completely-unheard-of just four short months ago. How did he do it? Find out here in the final Trip Notes and Analysis of the 2018 Triple Crown season:

1st: Justify – “Just break well” is all that raced through many of our minds as Justify left the gates from the rail on Saturday. He indeed broke like the champion that he is, and the rest was history. Justify shot straight to the front with business on his mind, carving out an early first 1/4-mile in 23.37 seconds. That was a bit fast, but when the 1/2-mile time came up in 48.11 seconds, all who knew what they were watching began to smile. While continuing to cruise on the lead, his next fraction told the story of the race. When he hit the 6-furlong pole, a time of 1:13.21 came up on the board, and the race was officially over at that point; there was no chance of anyone running down this monster after putting up that soft of a 6-furlong time.

Down the lane, the only danger came from a late charge by Gronkowski, but that rival could not make up enough ground on the runaway leader. Justify became the newest Triple Crown winner by doing exactly what American Pharoah did in 2015: go to the front and never look back. Now the question becomes: how good will this horse be with this in his rearview mirror? There are several horses in this crop that have tremendous upside, but Justify may actually have more upside than any of them. He was asked to do the impossible, and he did it. What will he do next? We can’t wait to find out!

2nd: Gronkowski – This horse ruined many people’s tickets with a second-place effort that was the biggest surprise of the entire Triple Crown season. Gronkowski was considered more of a joke coming into the race, but the joke was ultimately on all of his non-supporters. After a slow beginning, the scenario of him running very poor seemed to be playing out, looking sluggish while racing in last. Then, almost unbelievably, he started to pick off horses like they were standing still while moving up the rail in the far turn. Within a few seconds, he shot all the way up to second and was the only danger to Justify just a few strides past the far turn. He was unable to make up any ground on the eventual winner throughout the stretch, but he was a clear second as they hit the wire. This horse will take serious money in his next start. Is he for real? It’s very questionable in my opinion, and he might end up being a horse to play against next out.

3rd: Hofburg – At one point, he looked to be the main danger to pull the upset as he flew past horses on the final turn. However, he had to come wide to do it, and when entering the stretch, he had already begun leveling off a little bit. He didn’t quit, but he also didn’t have much of a burst left and stayed fairly stagnant down the lane while passing Vino Rosso right at the wire to get up for third. This is most likely going to be the horse to watch this summer and could have a big year ahead of him, as he is still so lightly-raced.

4th: Vino Rosso – This was the first horse to make a serious move on Justify. In the far turn, he got to within a 1/2-length while under a strong ride, but he could never get any closer. While Vino Rosso was being ridden hard, Mike Smith had not yet asked Justify to run. At that point, you knew that Vino Rosso could not catch the winner, but he did keep running well down the stretch and nearly got third. This will be a tough horse to read going into the summer. He has never taken a major step forward, but he still looks as though he could. His move on the turn was fairly impressive, even though he could not match strides with Justify.

5th: Tenfold – He found a small amount of trouble early, getting into a tight spot past the wire for the first time, but recovered to have a pretty nice trip after that point. After saving ground for most of the way, he swung outside in the stretch, but he basically spun his wheels down the lane. The distance may have been too much too soon for him, but this is a horse with serious upside as we head into some of the summer’s big races.

6th: Bravazo – Restoring Hope was able to pin Bravazo down along the inside for most of the race, but really, this horse had a perfect ground-saving trip while stalking Justify. Turning for home, he was in position to make a move, but he came up a bit empty. He continued to try down the lane without much success. The 1 1/2-mile distance may have gotten the best of him.

7th: Free Drop Billy – Predictably, this horse took back early in the race and never made an impact. He failed to come with any kind of rally despite saving ground most of the way around the track. The horse has proven to be outclassed when facing the crop’s top colts.

8th: Restoring Hope – Much is being made about Restoring Hope’s tactics because he was basically used as an early blocker for his Bob Baffert stablemate, Justify. The instructions for jockey Florent Geroux were likely to keep Justify out of trouble, but really, the horse never had much effect on the race. He did successfully block Noble Indy’s path to the front for a moment, but then the horse drifted crazy-wide into the first turn, which allowed Noble Indy a clear path to the front if he was willing to take it. After the wide first turn, the horse got back over towards the rail and pinned in Bravazo down the backside. Predictably, Restoring Hope faded on the far turn and never threatened.

9th: Blended Citizen – He was basically outclassed right from the beginning. A wide trip throughout likely didn’t help matters, but he dies not match up with these horses. He raced towards the back the entire way, and when the real running began, he was spinning his wheels. A class drop is most likely needed after this kind of effort.

10th: Noble Indy – The plan was for Noble Indy to be the pace setter, but the plan never seemed to develop. The colt was ridden for speed right out of the gate by jockey Javier Castellano, but oddly was not pushed all the way to the front despite that being the plan. Restoring Hope did try to keep him from messing with Justify, but he still had an opportunity to get to the front on the far turn and didn’t take it. He did not belong in the race and was outclassed in every way.

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