Of course, the most prominent of the Kentucky Derby runners is winner JUSTIFY. The impressive chestnut colt is perfect in five career starts thus far, most recently capturing the Preakness Stakes (G1) by a half-length at Pimlico, but has a tough task ahead in the Belmont Stakes.
The lightly raced Bob Baffert trainee will be making his third start in five weeks and increasing to a distance he’ll likely never compete at again, 1 1/2 miles, in the “Test of the Champion.” Throw in fresh horses – not just ones who skipped the Preakness Stakes but ones who didn’t even compete in the Kentucky Derby – and Justify will have to be at the top of his game to become the 13th sophomore to sweep the Triple Crown.
BRAVAZO was beaten eight lengths when sixth in the Kentucky Derby, but the D. Wayne Lukas pupil rebounded in a big way to be second in the Preakness last out. The gutsy dark bay appeared ready to swoop on by Justify in the foggy second jewel of the Triple Crown, but just ran out of room late. The extra distance of the Belmont may be just what he needs to deny a Triple Crown sweep and give Lukas his fifth win in the race.
HOFBURG finished three parts of a length behind Bravazo in the Kentucky Derby when seventh under the wire. The Bill Mott charge entered the Run for the Roses boasting just one win from three career starts, with that coming as his maiden score at Gulfstream Park on March 3. The chestnut colt earned his shot at Derby glory by filling the second spot in the Florida Derby (G1). Hofburg put in a great stretch rally to improve his Derby finishing position by six spots and could be motoring in the long stretch at Belmont Park to challenge Justify.
VINO ROSSO, on the other hand, didn’t make up much ground in the muddy lane at Churchill Downs, but looks to improve off his ninth-place Derby run if the ground comes up fast for the Belmont Stakes. The Todd Pletcher trainee captured his initial two starts last year and pulled off for a three-length victory in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct prior to his Derby effort.
FREE DROP BILLY is one race short of tying with Bravazo and Peter Pan Stakes (G3) hero Blended Citizen as having the most starts (10) in the Belmont field. The Dale Romans-conditioned colt has racked up two wins, three seconds and two thirds (2-3-2) from nine career starts, with his worse finish to date coming as a 16th-placing in the Kentucky Derby last out. Free Drop Billy is a Grade 1 winner from his juvenile season and took his racing debut at Churchill last June by three lengths. The Belmont Stakes could be the spot he reclaims his two-year-old form.
NOBLE INDY beat only Combatant, Magnum Moon and Mendelssohn in the 144th edition of the Kentucky Derby, crossing under the wire in 17th for Pletcher. He was sent off at 59-1 odds in the race despite three wins and a third-placing from four career efforts. One of those wins was a tough-fought neck score over Lone Sailor in the Louisiana Derby (G2) before the Kentucky Derby. That battle royale may have taken something out of Noble Indy before the Derby, but the bay colt has had plenty of rest in the interim and could be ready for another fight to the finish line in the Belmont Stakes.