Justify has answered every question in a whirlwind 4-month, 5-race career, and now the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner faces the Test of the Champion.
The undefeated dual classic winner is the 4-to-5 morning line favorite to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park and become Thoroughbred racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner.
The superlatives are already piling on the Scat Daddy colt, but sweeping the Triple Crown would be especially amazing for a horse who had not even run in a race until 4 months ago.
Indeed, he became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two-year-old, and a Belmont victory would make him the only Triple Crown winner not to have raced as a juvenile. He’d also become just the second Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 and the second undefeated one along with Seattle Slew in 1977.
“Six races is a lot, but we’ve seen that he thrives on it,” said Bob Baffert, who trains the colt for a partnership that includes WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Bloodstock, and Starlight Racing. “The way he’s built—his muscles—you could see he’s just a big, strong, powerful horse. He’s just a muscled-up strong athlete.
Justify will face nine other three-year-olds in his Triple Crown quest, a group that Florida Derby runner-up Hofburg leads in terms of hype as the morning line second choice, but others lead on accomplishment as stakes winners such as the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Wood Memorial Stakes winner Vino Rosso and Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy.
"I just want to see him run his race,” Baffert said. “If he runs his race, he's just a superior animal. I want him to show up, that's all. I'm focusing on if he shows up. If he's good enough, he'll get it done."
The only horse in the field to try Justify in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes is Risen Star Stakes winner Bravazo, who was second in the Preakness. Adding to the intrigue of those two horses tussling again is that D. Wayne Lukas trains Bravazo for Calumet Farm, and Baffert and Lukas are tied for the all-time lead in Triple Crown race victories with 14 apiece.
"The foundation, just being fit, is going to help his chances," Lukas said. "They're all doing well; I've watched them all train. With the big (1 1/2-mile) configuration of the racetrack and the sweeping turns, we should have a good trip. I think it'll get down to which horses have the pedigree and the stamina to finish."
The field also includes multiple graded stakes winner Blended Citizen, Preakness third-place finisher Tenfold, European stakes winner Gronkowski, Justify’s stablemate Restoring Hope, and smart two-year-old Free Drop Billy looking to regain his form following a disappointing Derby run.
Find the TwinSpires free Belmont Stakes betting guide here.