Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) wunderkind JUSTIFY is surely the one to beat as he takes aim on an historic Triple Crown achievement with a Belmont Stakes win at Belmont Park. There is no doubt that the massive colt is the one to beat, though the ‘Test of Champions’ is not for the faint of heart and often produces an upset.
From a betting standpoint, chewing on 2-5 odds never tastes as good as collecting on a double-digit win mutuel. I will highlight the chances of a pair of long shot contenders I think have a legitimate chance on Saturday.
– Bill Mott trainee is not long on seasoning with just a quartet of lifetime runs to date, but I think the colt is very talented. Florida Derby (G1) runner-up had no luck in the Derby from well off the pace but did pass a lot of runners late. And his gallop-out was the best in the field, hinting the 12 panels will be well within his scope.
Son of Tapit has the best pedigree in the field. And as I noted leading up to the Kentucky Derby, the oft-conservative Bill Mott must think a whole lot of the Kentucky-bred to throw him to the wolves so soon at this stage of his development.
Hofburg has reportedly trained in fine fashion in the interim and pilot Irad Ortiz is no stranger to Belmont Park – winning this race in 2016 atop Creator. Ortiz is also currently second in the jockeys’ race at Belmont.
– Todd Pletcher has saddled a trio of Belmont Stakes winners (Rags to Riches 2007; Palace Malice 2013; Tapwrit 2017). He owns seven Eclipse Awards for outstanding trainer. And Pletcher has won or shared the training title at Belmont Park no fewer than a staggering 14 times.
He will saddle two in the Belmont, including Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) hero Vino Rosso. And I think Vino Rosso poses the biggest threat to the unbeaten Justify.
Son of Curlin didn’t have an impact on the Kentucky Derby from well off the early pace, but he ran a decent race all the same. And he was another who was striding out well after the wire, suggesting more ground will be to his benefit.
Vino Rosso is bred to handle this trip being out of a Street Cry mare. The chestnut has what I think is the ideal running style and I tabbed him as my Belmont horse in April. Vino Rosso lacks the early speed and push-button acceleration of Justify, but his long stride and steady action seems ideal for Big Sandy at 1 ½ miles.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who has guided Vino Rosso in each of his lifetime races, has passed on other mounts all spring to stick with the colt. He will aim to bag his third Belmont Stakes, in the process.
– New shooter in the field is on my list as much for his connections as his accomplishments. European import is perfect from a trio of synthetic runs in 2018 and was being pointed to the Kentucky Derby before being withdrawn with an illness.
Son of Lohnro has many questions to answer – handling the distance, trying the dirt for the initial time, as well as getting a true class test. I’ll be the first to admit that I have an unclear idea as to what to expect from him on Saturday.
Gronkowski has impressed in a pair of works at Belmont of late, though, since coming to conditioner Chad Brown who has earned the last two Eclipse Awards for top trainer. And he gets jockey Jose Ortiz, voted the Eclipse Award winner in 2017.
I think the Belmont Stakes is a jockey’s race more often than not. It is an event unlike any other and local experience is vital. So having the leading rider at the meet is a huge positive.
Justify might simply take an early lead and gallop this field into the ground with his huge and efficient strides. The electric colt is said to be improving by his conditioner, which is a scary proposition.
But this is the Belmont Stakes and nothing can be taken for granted. They call it the ‘Test of Champions’ for a reason.
(Justify photo by Horsephotos.com)