As we (mercifully) come to the end of the Triple Crown season (possibly the worst thing to happen to horse racing as a whole but more on that later) we find ourselves asking the same questions that we asked in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before.
Do you believe Justify has what it takes to fend-off 10 challengers in the Belmont Stakes to take the 2018 Triple Crown?
Heading into the Preakness I thought he might. Coming out of the Preakness I wasn't so sure. As we get closer and closer to race time I'm still unsure. But not for the reasons you might think.
Many lost faith in Justify when he appeared ran out in the Preakness and barely held off a hard-charging Bravazo. Saying that "he'll never make a mile and a half" assumes that the Belmont is the same race as the Preakness before it, or even the Kentucky Derby before that, only a little bit longer.
It never is, and it's never ran just the same as those races either. So while Bravazo is probably going to get a lot of money bet into him I'm going to look elsewhere in my betting, depending on where the contenders are placed in the post draw.
Here's the list of contenders. (with early odds and some commentary):
1. Justify (4/5) - He was my key horse in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes but I'm not sure I'll be using him as a key here. Certainly, he'll be in my exotics and I'll be rooting for him like mad. One advantage he might have however is that there appears to be no "rabbit" in this field to push him along rapidly. That could be huge and impact the chances of the late closers the public is going to fall for.
2. Hofburg (4-1) - Every Triple Crown season there is a horse the "sharps" fall in love with and this year that horse is Hofburg. Things I like about him: He's got excellent pedigree for the distance and his trainer (Bill Mott) knows how to win at Belmont. He's also the trainer who took away the Triple Crown from Real Quiet, also trained by Bob Baffert. What I don't like: He's gotten worse and worse as his races have gotten longer and longer. He was a clear 2nd best to Audible in the Florida Derby and was no factor in the Kentucky.
3. Bravazo (7-1) - Two things: 1. The public is going to LOVE this horse because of his late charge in the Preakness. See above about why I think this isn't going to happen in the Belmont. I don't like a pure late closer and that's all Bravazo is. My gut feeling is that he's not going to get a hot pace to run into this time around. Also, he's erratic.
4. Vino Rosso (8-1) - No real factor in the Kentucky Derby but he's got the local angle working for him (Aqueduct) but I don't think he has either the tactical speed or finishing kick to stay with the best in this race. Still, he could improve off the layoff, and he'll be fresher than Justify in this race. Anything can happen and Pletcher knows how to win the Belmont.
5. Tenfold (10-1) - I thought Tenfold improved in the Preakness and he'll need to improve again in the Belmont. His problem is that he'll need to improve quite a bit and there's the question of how much a hard-ran Preakness took out of him.
6. Blended Citizen (14-1) - This is my type of Belmont horse. A new shooter who's won over the track (in the Grade III Peter Pan Stakes) with a Trainer that understands the local layout in Doug O'Neill. His two wins have come in his last three races and both have been of the graded variety. I do worry a little about his tactical speed, but his stretch-run in the Peter Pan was outstanding. I'm a little worried because I can't find any excuses for him in the Bluegrass Stakes (5th place)
7. Gronkowski (25-1) - I think the connections to New England Tight End Rob Gronkowski will be more interesting than how the horse Gronkowsky fares in this race. He's never gone over a mile in distance although he has won his last four races, all overseas. This will be his first race in the States and I'm usually one who doesn't like to bet an across-the-pond shipper until his second race over here.
8. Noble Indy (33-1) - Hated the slop in the Kentucky Derby but ran a tough race to win the Louisiana. If anything, he MIGHT be the horse for Pletcher that is in this race to try and push Justify but I don't think he has the speed, or stamina, to truly do so. Fun little horse, might be a contender in some mile races later in the year.
9. Free Drop Billy (50-1) - The 2-year old champion has just not looked like his old self in his 3-yo campaign. He's a horse that doesn't appear to have matured much since winning the Breeder's Cup Futurity in 2017 and he'll need to improve mightily to win here.
11. Restoring Hope (50-1) - Ran a horrible race in the Pat Day Mile on Derby Day. Took some time off but would have to improve mightily to contend here. I just don't see it. Feels like a Allowance level horse that's trying to step up in level. Can't find any pedigree here that makes me feel better about him.
The numbers above are just an order, the post draw is Tuesday so we'll have a follow up then.
The entire card for the 3 days of the Belmont festival could be very exciting, and very profitable if you can handicap it well.