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Kentucky Derby and Horse Racing at The Downey Profile®

Justify To Go For Triple Crown From Post 1 in Belmont Stakes

6/5/2018

Will Try to Become the 13th

Exiting from post 1, Justify will attempt to join Seattle Slew as the only undefeated Triple Crown winner in Saturday's Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
 
And watching will be Bob Baffert, hoping his horse joins him up with Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons as the only trainers to saddle two Triple Crown winners.
 
Justify's morning line is 4-5, and he'll be heavily favored when the gates open, but somehow these favorites get beaten more often than not.
 
Between  Affirmed in 1978 and the Baffert-trained American Pharoah in 2015, thirteen horses were eligible to win the Triple Crown, including three trained by Baffert himself: Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem. But none of them accomplished the feat. Baffert knows the hope of this race and the pain of these losses.
 
"We're coming up with another great horse who just keeps bringing it," said Baffert at the post draw. "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.'
 
Justify, an imposing chestnut son of Scat Daddy ridden by Mike Smith, has made all five of his starts in a three-month span this year, making history in the process. Since Apollo in 1882, no horse unraced as a juvenile had been able to win the Derby, and then not only did Justify do that, he won the Preakness two weeks later.
 
"He's obviously the best of the generation, I think he's proven that," said co-owner WinStar Farm's Elliott Walden. "So I think it's his race to lose. Now having said that, there are plenty of great horses who have lost the Belmont. He's not a cinch by any stretch of the imagination. But he's a horse with extreme talent, and I think that's his biggest attribute. He's a better horse than these horses right now. With that being said, the three weeks, how will that play into it? The mile and a half, how will that play into it? The great thing about the Triple Crown is there are always these variables. That's what makes horse racing great, and why there will be horses to load up against him to try to beat him. That's what it's all about."
 
Justify's nine opponents have taken vastly different roads to this junction. Four of them faced him in the Derby, then skipped the Preakness to await the final leg of the Triple Crown.
 
Chief among them is Hofburg, the second choice at 9-2 on the morning line, who has enjoyed an interesting spring for trainer Bill Mott.
 
Hofburg, a homebred son of Tapit, was off a step slow in his debut at Saratoga last fall, finishing fourth going seven furlongs, but he wowed in his maiden win in March going 1 1/16 mile at Gulfstream Park from the outside post. Off that performance, Mott sent Hofburg straight into the Florida Derby, where he finished a solid second to Audible. In the Kentucky Derby, he had a somewhat eventful trip on a sloppy track, but he improved his position to finish seventh, beaten 8 3/4 lengths.
 
"We've had good time to recover from the Derby, which probably makes it a bigger challenge for Justify," said Mott. "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."
 
Mott is seeking his second Belmont Stakes victory, having won the 2010 renewal with Drosselmeyer.  
 
"I have a lot of confidence in him," said Mott. "I feel very good about him. It's no walk in the park. You got to go run around Belmont, a mile and a half. We don't take the challenge lightly, but that's what we're here for."
 
Mott will give a leg up to Irad Ortiz, Jr., winner of the 2016 Belmont aboard Creator,  with the pair leaving from post 4.
 
The Dale Romans-trained Free Drop Billy was prominent last year, finishing second in the Sanford and the Hopeful at Saratoga, then winning the Breeders' Futurity in October at Keeneland. He has yet to reach the winner's circle this year, with his best effort a non-threatening second to Audible in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February.
 
"He's always been consistent. Throw out two races (16th in the Kentucky Derby and 9th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile), and he's hit the board every time, and the mile and a half might be the difference-maker. You don't know if the others will like it, and his pedigree says he should. But you don't know until you try," said Romans of the son of 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags, a 30-1 longshot.
 
Robby Albarado will ride Free Drop Billy from post 2.
 
Todd Pletcher won last year's edition with Tapwrit, his third Belmont Stakes win overall, and on Saturday he comes in with Vino Rosso, ninth in the Kentucky Derby, and Noble Indy, who disdained the sloppy going at Churchill and finished 17th.
 
Both colts own graded stakes wins around two turns, with Vino Rosso taking the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Noble Indy victorious in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
 
Both, says Pletcher, fit the criteria of what he looks for in a Belmont horse.
 
"Both of these horses had a pedigree to suggest they can handle it, with Noble Indy having (1992 Belmont winner) A.P. Indy influence on the top side, and Vino Rosso being closely related to Commissioner, who was unfortunately just beaten in the Belmont, on the bottom side," he said. "Both of them have that training style about them where they show good stamina in their gallops, good rhythms in their gallops and also have been successful at winning races at 1 1/8 miles already."
 
John Velazquez will be aboard Vino Rosso, who drew post 8 and was tabbed as an 8-1 program choice, while Javier Castellano will ride Noble Indy, 30-1, from post 9.
 
The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Bravazo will join Justify as the only horse to compete in all three legs of the 2018 Triple Crown, having finished a decent sixth after a wide trip in the Derby and coming out of the fog to fall a half-length short of Justify in the Preakness. Bravazo owns a single stakes win, having taken the Risen Star at Fair Grounds, and overall is 3-2-1 from 10 career starts.
 
"This horse is pretty tough," Lukas said of Bravazo, a son of Proud Citizen. "We're taking on Goliath, you know. This is not the junior prom we're dealing with. We're going to have a tough chore. I don't see any chinks in the armor. I think we had a chance to beat Justify in the Preakness. Now he's going to be really tough. I think it's a lot tougher order to beat him now."
 
Luis Saez will ride Bravazo, 8-1, from post 3.
 
Tenfold, like Justify, did not race at age two. Unlike Justify, the third-place Preakness finisher hasn't won a stake, coming in fifth in the Arkansas Derby after posting a maiden and an optional claiming win at Oaklawn Park for trainer Steve Asmussen, who saddled 2016 Belmont winner Creator.
 
"I don't know if there's a 3-year-old around better bred for the Belmont than he is," said Winchell Thoroughbreds racing manager, David Fiske, of the son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and the Tapit mare Temptress. "He's by a horse that lost the Belmont by a nostril and is one of the top sires in the country, and he's out of a mare who is by arguably the best Belmont sire ever."
 
Ricardo Santana, Jr. will ride Tenfold, 12-1 on the morning line, from post 7.

Perhaps the most intriguing entrant in the Belmont is Gronkowski, the namesake of New England Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will be making his stateside debut on Saturday. He also will be making his first start beyond a mile and first start on the dirt for new trainer Chad Brown. He comes into the Belmont off a four-race win streak in Great Britain.
 
"This horse hasn't put a foot wrong since he's arrived. He's a real classy horse and came to me in outstanding condition. Based on his two workouts, he's made to go a mile and a half on the dirt to me," said Brown, who took over training duties from Jeremy Noseda last month. "In a perfect world, I wish I had him longer and had a better handle on the horse, but it is what it is and I'm fortunate to be in this position to go there with a chance to win."
 
Jose Ortiz, who rode Tapwrit to victory last year, will ride the son of Australian sire Lonhro, 12-1, from post 6.
 
Doug O'Neill, who brought I'll Have Another to the brink of a Triple Crown try in 2012, only to scratch the horse on the eve of the Belmont due to a tendon injury, is back with Peter Pan winner Blended Citizen, 15-1 on the morning line.

Successful on dirt, turf and synthetic surfaces, The Proud Citizen colt ran the best race of his life in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan, which has been the springboard for seven Belmont winners, most recently Tonalist in 2014.  
 
He will leave from post 10 with Kyle Frey in the irons.
 
Finally, Baffert could thwart his own Triple Crown with Restoring Hope. The Giant's Causeway colt is one of three horses at 30-1 and has only a maiden victory on his resume. Third in the Wood Memorial and 12th over a sloppy track in the Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby Day, Restoring Hope drew post 5 under Florent Geroux.
 
"He's well bred," said Baffert. "He's as good as the majority in there, I think. He ran well in California. I've always thought he was a really top horse. I really thought he was a Derby horse. Then we all thought, 'maybe he's a Belmont horse'."


Edited NYRA release with additional content by Dick Downey

150th Belmont Stakes  - Race 11, 6:46 ET - NBC - HRRN - $1,500,000

 Post   Horse  ML     Jockey  Trainer  Owner  Breeder Last Race
 1  Justify (KY)  4-5  M Smith  B Baffert  China Horse Club International Ltd., Head of Plains Partners LLC (Sol Kumin), Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf et al) & WinStar Farm LLC  John D. Gunther  1st Preakness
 2  Free Drop Billy (KY)  30-1   R Albarado  D Romans  Albaugh Family Stables  Helen K. Groves Revocable Trust  16th Kentucky Derby
 3  Bravazo (KY)  8-1  L Saez  D W Lukas  Calumet Farm (Brad Kelley)  Calumet Farm  2d Preakness
 4  Hofburg (KY)  9-2  I Ortiz Jr.  B Mott  Juddmonte Farms, Inc.  Juddmonte Farms  7th Kentucky Derby
 5  Restoring Hope (KY)  30-1  F Geroux  B Baffert  Gary & Mary West  Gary & Mary West Stables, Inc.  12th Pat Day Mile
 6  Gronkowski (KY)  12-1  J Ortiz  C Brown  Phoenix Thoroughbred III Limited & Rob Gronkowski  Epic Thoroughbreds LLC  1st Burradon Stakes
 7  Tenfold (KY)  12-1  R Santana, Jr.  S Asmussen  Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC  Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC  3d Preakness
 8  Vino Rosso (KY)  8-1  J Velazquez  T Pletcher  Repole Stable & St. Elias Stable  John D. Gunther  9th Kentucky Derby
 9  Noble Indy (KY)  30-1  J Castellano  T Pletcher  WinStar Farm LLC & Repole Stable  WinStar Farm  17th Kentucky Derby
 10  Blended Citizen (KY)  15-1  K Frey  D O'Neill  Greg Hall & Sayjay Racing, LLC  Ray Hanson  1st Peter Pan

 


 

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