Race Previews

Belmont Stakes Preview: Justify Goes for Immortality

Justify Winning the 144th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs (Credit: Coady Photography)

It simply does not get any better than a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line. The grandstand will be filled with 90,000 people on Saturday, and all of them will be coming for one thing: To see Justify becoming just the 13th Triple Crown winner in horse racing history. The task is daunting. Many have come to Belmont with a shot at history and failed. Will Justify join horse racing immortality or will he join the long list of horses who came up just short?

Justify was installed as the 4/5 morning line favorite for the race, and drew the rail in a field of ten horses. He shipped to Belmont Park on Wednesday, and has given all indications that he is ready to roll for his date with destiny on Saturday. Throughout the road to the Triple Crown trainer Bob Baffert has been extremely calm, cool, and collected. His demeanor hasn’t changed one bit as the big day draws closer.

“Let’s see if he can do it,” Baffert said. “He came out of nowhere, and now he’s picking up steam. People say, ‘Oh, he’s so beautiful. What a beautiful horse.’ He’s become a rock star, like Pharoah, so let’s see if he can do it.”

“We’re coming up with another great horse who just keeps bringing it,” said Baffert Tuesday evening. “We still have a few days to go. We know it’s going to be tough. But if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.’

2018 Belmont Stakes Wagering Guide

The main threat for Justify is the growing presence of Hofburg, who is gaining hype with each passing day. Racing Dudes writer Mike “Saratoga Slim” Spector was on hand for Hofburg’s final work for the Belmont Stakes, and wrote a tremendous article about the horse that you can find HERE. Trainer Bill Mott has been unusually aggressive with Hofburg this year, and you can tell he is confident that his colt is ready for the challenge that lies ahead on Saturday.

“We’ve had good time to recover from the Derby, which probably makes it a bigger challenge for Justify,” said Mott of Hofburg, who has been training at Saratoga. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. We didn’t hit the board in the Derby and didn’t see any big advantage to running in the Preakness. We just pointed for the Belmont. We have to do what’s best for us, and that’s what we did.”

The field front the rail out for the 150th Belmont Stakes includes: Justify, Free Drop Billy, Bravazo, Hofburg, Restoring Hope, Gronkowski, Tenfold, Vino Rosso, Noble Indy, and Blended Citizen.

Top Choice

#1 Justify – His trainer has compared him to Lebron James, and now it is time to find out if the horse will go down in history as being that type of legendary figure. After a Preakness Stakes that left some wondering, Justify has been brilliant in his preparation for the Belmont Stakes. His workouts suggests he is by no means a tired horse, and it looks as though he is the controlling speed in this race. Drawing the rail could make that even more of an advantage as long as he breaks well from the gate. A poor break could be the only complicated thing with this inside post position draw. The outlook of this race is basically the same as the first two in the Triple Crown series: Justify is the best horse in the race, and he will have to run poorly for anyone to beat him. In the Preakness he did not run his best race and still won. Today he will have to run better, and by every indication we are seeing he most likely will. He is ready to become the 13th Triple Crown Winner.

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#4 Hofburg – There is no doubt this is the buzz horse coming into the race, and he will be the second choice behind Justify. Actually, Justify and Hofburg are very similar when it comes to their lack of experience. Hofburg did start as a two year old, but only raced once before running again at Gulfstream Park in the winter. He broke his maiden in his 2018 debut, and went straight to the Grade 1 Florida Derby where he finished a solid second to Audible. That race proved he had talent, and even though he was off the board in the Kentucky Derby, he was the only horse who had some major excuses. Even so, he did not get discouraged by traffic trouble, and was still running well late in the race. Trainer Bill Mott has been aggressive with this horse from day one, and that should give you confidence.

#8 Vino Rosso – From day one I thought the Belmont Stakes would fit this horse perfectly, and he seems to be coming into the race in fine fashion. Todd Pletcher has shown in the past that the Belmont Stakes is right up his alley, and we all know that he is tough to beat in New York. Vino Rosso has a running style that can win this type of race as he as the ability to just grind away, and he should be able to handle this distance. Closers like him and Hofburg will need to be a bit more tactical today, but if they can do that and sit closer than normal they could be hard to hold off in the late stages of the race.

Exotic Plays

#7 Tenfold – This horse is rapidly improving, and Steve Asmussen seems to be over the moon about his potential and progress. After two victories at Oaklawn Park so begin his career, he was entered in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in just his third lifetime start. He was fifth in that race, but was close to finishing second, which gave his connections hope. In the Preakness Stakes he was one of the longest shots on the board, but outran those odds to finish third. At one point he looked to be the main danger to Justify in the Preakness, and he should not mind this extended distance today. If he can continue to improve he could play a factor in the outcome today.

#10 Blended Citizen – The Doug O’Neill trained horse was on the also eligible list for the Kentucky Derby, but did not quite make it into the field. That actually turned out to be a good thing, though, as he then pointed for the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park and picked up a nice win. The Belmont Stakes distance should suit his running style fairly well as he will look to grind away at tired horses late, and pick up the pieces. He is a logical underneath candidate.

#3 Bravazo – D Wayne Lukas almost pulled off one of his patented upsets in the Preakness Stakes with this horse who continues to get better with each race. Lukas has said he believes the horse is coming into the Belmont in fantastic shape, and his pedigree suggests he should be able to handle this extra distance. He is bred on the same line as Oxbow, who finished second in the Belmont Stakes. If he can continue his upward progression there is no doubt he can make an impact in this spot.

Party Crashers

#5 Restoring Hope – Trainer Bob Baffert has been high on this horse from day one, but he has never really shown his true abilities. In the Grade 2 Wood Memorial he had a chance to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, but was well beaten by Vino Rosso and Enticed while finishing third. His final workout leading up to this race was very solid, though, so maybe he is sitting on a big one. He’s a bit of a wildcard, and wouldn’t it be an amazing story if Bob Baffert won this race with a horse NOT named Justify?

Throw Outs

#9 Noble Indy – He could be an interesting entry as he has early speed, and a pedigree that suggests the Belmont Stakes is within his range. The toughness he displayed in his Grade 2 Louisiana Derby win is also a positive sign. However, he has the same owners as Justify, so he probably will be ridden with the idea in mind of not messing with Justify at any time. Knowing that, it’s hard to get overly excited about his chances.

#2 Free Drop Billy – Trainer Dale Romans decided to give Free Drop Billy one more shot, which was not surprising to anyone. It’s hard to get on board with this horse as this distance may be a bit too far for him. Some class relief and cut back in distance is probably what he needs more than anything.

#6 Gronkowski – This would have been the buzz horse of the Kentucky Derby because of his name, but a minor injury forced him to miss the race. The real gamblers were upset about this because the horse would have taken a ton of money that his past performances wouldn’t have warranted. Now he is with Chad Brown, but he is a major question mark.

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