Belmont Stakes-G1, Belmont Park
Race 11, Saturday, June 9, 2018
1 1/2-miles. Surface: Dirt. Purse: $1.5 Million
2018 Belmont Stakes Picks
- 1. Hofburg
- 2. Justify
- 3. Vino Rosso
- 4. Blended Citizen
Belmont Stakes Analysis
Justify will attempt to become just the second undefeated Triple Crown winner in history and the 13th overall when he takes on nine rivals at Belmont Park on Saturday in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes.
We’re betting against him.
That’s probably not a popular choice, as Justify looks like the dominant speed and class of the race, and the logical deserving favourite at 4/5 on the morning line. His trainer, Bob Baffert also won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015.
There’s a reason only 12 horses have won the Triple Crown. Like winning the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup, it’s extremely difficult to do. People, and animals, simply run out of gas in the late stages. A look at the last four Triple Crown winners shows they all had an edge in either heart or talent.
In 1973, Secretariat simply had more talent than any horse on the planet, and we still haven’t seen a horse come close to him on pure ability. In 1977 Affirmed rose to the occasion with a heart of pure steel and held off Alydar in three grueling races. In 1978 Seattle Slew also showcased a burning desire to win and later proved his extreme class and heart in the breeding shed. And the last of the most recent four Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah, simply outclassed his rivals. Yes, he had to dig in to win the Kentucky Derby, but there was really nothing around that could run with him.
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Which of the aforementioned Triple Crown winners does Justify remind you of? He has heart, we saw that in the Preakness, but he also had his main rival pinned down on a deep rail. He has obvious talent, he’s undefeated. And he’s had enough class to continually get the job done over slightly less talented rivals, including those that were gaining on him late in the Preakness. The major questions Justify must answer now are toughness and stamina, and we have seen some awfully good Triple Crown hopefuls go down to defeat in the Belmont on those two factors alone.
Good horses will usually move forward off a tough race. Great horses will leap forward. If Justify does the latter, he’ll widen on this field. Baffert says Justify hasn’t missed an oat, a required attribute at this stage of the Triple Crown, as he attempts become only the second trainer in history to win the Triple Crown twice. That rare honour belongs to Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who accomplished the feat in 1930 with Gallant Fox and again in 1935 with Omaha.
Baffert had a chance to win the Triple Crown three times before American Pharoah accomplished the feat for him in 2015. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem. Silver Charm was likely the toughest of the bunch, but he got nailed with a double team job in the Belmont.
The same thing could happen to Justify, which is likely one of the reasons so many top trainers think they can beat him. That and the fact that they think he had a tough race in the Preakness — which he did — and the sharks smell blood.
The race sets up with Justify setting the pace. If they let him set slow fractions he does have enough pedigree to win. Bravazo, Restoring Hope, Tenfold, Gronkowski, Free Drop Billy and Noble Indy can all take their run at Justify at some point in the race, or run with him if they can hack it. The point is, if more than one of them takes a shot at him before he enters the stretch, that last eighth of a mile on “Big Sandy” will be excruciatingly tough. Justify should turn back the early bidders, but the ralliers will not be so kind as to bow out.
Hofburg, Vino Rosso and Blended Citizen are the three big ralliers that would benefit from an early bid battle, and all have enough pedigree to get the 1 1/2-mile distance. Hofburg has been freshened by trainer Bill Mott since finishing a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby and gets the services of top jockey Irad Ortiz. Vino Rosso was only a few lengths behind Hof burg in the Derby and his race in the Wood Memorial would work perfectly here under superstar jockey John Velazquez, who knows this track intimately. And Blended Citizen’s angles include steadily improving Beyer Figures and a win over the track for trainer Doug O’Neill.
The ralliers have accolades, but none to match those of Justify. They’ll need great trips to beat the “justifiable” favourite, but history says it could happen.
And we’re betting on it.