By Charles Jay
Justify may be a super-horse, whether he completes a Triple Crown victory or not. That much could be true.
But that having been said, it is still a daunting task to be able to win three races against this kind of competition in a five-week period. They like to call the Belmont Stakes “the Test Of the Champion,” and it may or not be that, but it is the most intriguing of the three Triple Crown races, because it is run at a length none of them have gone before – a mile and a half. This year’s race is set to begin somewhere around 6:46 PM ET at Belmont Park, and remember that if you are a BetAnySports customer, you can place wagers on it in the racebook (which the Rebate and ‘Plus 10%’ options) or pick out some propositions in the sportsbook area.
Justify drew the rail position, and has demonstrated that he can perform, rain or shine. This chestnut colt by Scat Daddy is just shy of $3 million in winnings, and has raced only as a three-year-old. Obviously he is the – pardon the pun – justifiable favorite, and should be facing better conditions here than at Churchill Downs or Pimlico. But critics, and we use that term very loosely, may point to the fact that horses were gaining on him in the final eight of a mile in both those races. Because Bob Baffert’s charge will have to handle extra distance, there is an extra factor here that just didn’t exist in the Preakness.
Here are the Belmont Stakes betting odds, as they are posted at BetAnySports:
1 – Justify 4/5
2 – Free Drop Billy 30/1
3 – Bravazo 8/1
4 – Hofburg 9/2
5 – Restoring Hope 30/1
6 – Gronkowski 12/1
7 – Tenfold 12/1
8 – Vino Rosso 8/1
9 – Noble Indy 30/1
10 – Blended Citizen 15/1
For purposes of a trifecta box in this race, we can’t leave out Justify, who is going to be there in the stretch at the very least. But can he go the entire distance? Our objective was to find a couple of horses, and maybe one who could take it all the way.
We threw out some right away. Restoring Hope, for example, is not a realistic possibility, as he is trained by Baffert as well. Free Drop Billy has a Belmont-winning sire (Union Rags) but not enough in the way of actual performance that could – here we go with the puns again – justify throwing any money his way. Bravazo was closing fast in the Preakness, but this is now a third race in five weeks and D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer, said he felt the best chance for this colt was at Pimlico.
Gronkowski has the natural publicity hook (named after the New England Patriots’ tight end) and he is working under a new trainer in Chad Brown, which always adds an element of intrigue. But this race represents a big step up in class for him. And frankly, even though the jockey (Jose Ortiz) won last year’s Belmont, that means far less to us than the pedigree.
Vino Rosso is admittedly an interesting proposition, and skipped the Preakness, which I think puts him in better stead than usual. And this is Todd Pletcher’s best Belmont contender, who, if you can throw out that ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, is a definite consideration in the exotics. Pletcher also has Noble Indy, who has had some nice workouts, but unlike Vino Rosso, who will be looking to close, this horse’s running style may be to stay up near the front, where Justify could be, and that may not work very well. However, if he does force a faster pace than expected, he helps the closers’ cause.
Blended Citizen is a horse we can use. His last win was right here at Belmont – the Peter Pan on May 12, coming from off the pace. There is an interesting angle here, as Blended Citizen ran early on dirt, was not successful, then was switched to turf and the synthetic, at which time registering his fastest speed rating and then carrying it back onto the dirt after that. Yes, he’s part of it.
Hofburg could win this, not that it would be a complete shocker to everybody. Bill Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer, ran him in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby even though he really didn’t think the horse was ready to bloom just yet. But this is the race he’s been pointing to. In the the Florida Derby at Gulfstream he closed into the stretch but ran very wide – up for second behind Audible. But considering the circumstances, that’s not a bad result. He’s well-rested, the stable usually sends charges they think have a genuine chance, and Hofburg’s daddy (Tapit) has sired three of the last four Belmont winners, so keep that in mind. We’ll give him a win ticket, and that completes our box.