After a big win in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Justify will go for the Triple Crown this Saturday in the Belmont. Advance betting is available at the four Virginia OTBs beginning Friday June 8th at 11 AM and continue until 11 PM that night. Day of wagering will be available again June 9th beginning at 11 AM and continue until post time of 6:37 PM. The 4 OTBs are located in Richmond (Ponies & Pints), Henrico (Breakers Sports Grille), Chesapeake (Buckets Bar & Grill) and Collinsville (just outside of Martinsville). Virginia residents can also wager via four on line providers — TVG.com, XpressBet.com, TwinSpires.com and NYRABets.com
Jon White’s Belmont rankings
In case you forgot, Jon is a historian of the sport of horse racing and also does the morning line at Santa Anita. This is his breakdown of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
1. Justify (4-5 morning line). “I not only believe Justify is going to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes and become this country’s 13th Triple Crown winner, I think there is a good chance he will do so by a comfortable margin.
“Many are of the opinion that the greatest performance in the history of American racing was Secretariat’s phenomenal 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes to complete a Triple Crown sweep. Secretariat was a big colt who thrived on Belmont Park’s vast 1 1/2-mile oval. Justify is an even bigger colt who likewise should relish running on such a large oval with its sweeping turns.
“Justify’s Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, said earlier this week that Justify stands 16 hands, 3 inches tall and ‘weighs like 1,270 pounds.’ When Secretariat was a 3-year-old, he was meticulously measured on Oct. 22 by Dr. Manuel Gilman, the official veterinarian at that time for the New York Racing Assn. tracks. Secretariat’s height was 16 hands, 1/2-inch. He weighed 1,131 pounds.
“If Justify succeeds in the Belmont, he will be the first Triple Crown winner who did not race as a 2-year-old. If he is victorious in the Belmont, he and Seattle Slew would be the only two to win the Triple Crown with an unblemished record. Justify also would become only the second Triple Crown winner sold previously at public auction. Seattle Slew was a $17,500 yearling. Justify was a $500,000 yearling.
“The Belmont Stakes pace should be much better for Justify than it had been in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. NBC’s Randy Moss has pointed out that no horse in the 144-year history of the Kentucky Derby won it after going the opening quarter-mile as fast as Justify did. Justify was slightly off the lead in a first quarter that was run in 22.24 seconds on a sloppy track. Justify splashed home a 2 1/2-length winner, with Good Magic finishing second. Good Magic was last year’s Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male.
“The early pace was not as torrid in the Preakness. Justify ran the initial quarter in 23.11 seconds, again on a sloppy track. But while the Preakness tempo was not as rapid as it had been in the Derby, Justify nevertheless found himself embroiled in a prolonged tussle for the lead with Good Magic that continued all the way until deep stretch. After Justify finally put away Good Magic, he then had to hold off late challenges from Bravazo and Tenfold. While Justify won by only a half-length, it was to his credit that he got the job done without ever getting a breather at any point during the entire 1 3/16 miles.
“If, as expected, the early pace in the Belmont is not as fast as it was in the Derby or Preakness, Justify’s opponents could be in big trouble.
“Of course, in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, Justify is being asked to go farther than he ever has before. But so is everyone else in the race. While I would not say Justify’s breeding is the greatest for a 1 1/2-mile race, the blood of numerous past Belmont Stakes winners is coursing through his veins, including Triple Crown winners Count Fleet (1943), Secretariat (1973) and Seattle Slew (1977). These Belmont Stakes winners also are in Justify’s pedigree: American Flag (1925), Johnstown (1939), Bimelech (1940), Native Dancer (1953), Nashua (1955), Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Damascus (1967) and A.P. Indy (1992).
“One concern I have is Justify was not the 2-year-old male champion. Six of the last seven Triple Crown winners — Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and American Pharoah —were the 2-year-old male champ.
“Justify also is being asked to defeat more opponents in the Belmont Stakes than any of the 12 Triple Crown winners. Justify is facing nine horses. Sir Barton defeated only two opponents in the 1919 Belmont, Gallant Fox three in 1930, Omaha four in 1935, War Admiral six in 1937, Whirlaway three in 1941, Count Fleet two in 1943, Assault six in 1946, Citation seven in 1948, Secretariat four in 1973, Seattle Slew seven in 1977, Affirmed four in 1978 and American Pharoah seven in 2015.
“Is Justify a cinch to win the Belmont Stakes? Certainly not. Spectacular Bid, one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, was thwarted in his bid for a Triple Crown sweep when he finished third as an overwhelming favorite in the 1979 Belmont. Smarty Jones’ only defeat in nine career starts came in the 2004 Belmont. Big Brown’s lone loss in eight lifetime starts came in the 2008 Belmont.
“But while anything can happen in a horse race, I look for Justify to continue his winning ways in the Belmont Stakes and complete a sweep of the coveted Triple Crown. If it happens, Baffert will join the legendary Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons as the only trainers to win the Triple Crown twice. Fitzsimmons won the Triple Crown with Gallant Fox in 1930, then with Gallant Fox’s son Omaha in 1935. Baffert won the 2015 Triple Crown with American Pharoah, who prevailed in the Belmont Stakes by an emphatic 5 1/2 lengths. Justify would be Baffert’s third Belmont Stakes winner. Point Given won the 2001 Belmont for Baffert in isolated splendor by 12 3/4 lengths.”
2. Hofburg (9-2). “He is by Tapit, who remarkably has sired Belmont Stakes winners Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017). Hofburg encountered traffic trouble in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby, but was full of run in the stretch to finish seventh, then galloped out strongly after the finish. He has a Hall of Fame trainer in Bill Mott, who won the 2010 Belmont with Drosselmeyer.”
3. Vino Rosso (8-1). “In an epic renewal of the Belmont, Vino Rosso’s sire, Curlin, lost by a head in 2007 to the filly Rags to Riches (who should be in the Hall of Fame). Vino Rosso finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, but his three-length victory in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct gives him a license to do well in the Belmont. Todd Pletcher trains Vino Rosso. Pletcher has won the Belmont three times (the aforementioned Rags to Riches, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017).”
4. Bravazo (8-1). “He rallied late with gusto to finish second in the Preakness. When Bravazo ran sixth in the May 5 Kentucky Derby, it actually was a pretty good effort due to a wide trip and the fact he had not raced since the March 24 Louisiana Derby. D. Wayne Lukas trains Bravazo. Lukas and Baffert are tied for most Triple Crown race victories by a trainer. They each have 14. Lukas has won the Belmont four times (Tabasco Cat in 1994, Thunder Gulch in 1995, Editor’s Note in 1996 and Commendable in 2000).”
5. Tenfold (12-1). “By finishing a respectable third in the Preakness, this lightly raced son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin showed that he certainly is not out of his league in the Belmont. The Preakness was only his fourth career start. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trains Tenfold. Asmussen won the 2016 Belmont with Creator.”
6. Blended Citizen (15-1). “He is the only horse in this year’s Belmont Stakes to have raced at Belmont Park. Blended Citizen won the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 12. American Pharoah is the lone Triple Crown winner who had not raced previously at Belmont Park, something Justify also is seeking to do this year.”
7. Free Drop Billy (30-1). “His worst races have been when they mattered the most. He has never finished worse than fourth except for when he ran ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Maybe he will finish third in the Belmont. Dale Romans, who trains Free Drop Billy, has sent out a horse to finish third in the Belmont four times (Nolan’s Cat in 2005 at odds of 20-1, First Dude in 2010 at 5-1, Keen Ice in 2015 at 17-1 and Medal Count in 2017 at 24-1).
8. Noble Indy (30-1). “A candidate to be a pace factor in the Belmont. He won the Louisiana Derby, but then finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby. Noble Indy, like Vino Rosso, is trained by Pletcher.”
9. Restoring Hope (30-1). “This colt, like Justify, is trained by Baffert. Restoring Hope finished third in the Wood Memorial and 12th in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs. While a Belmont victory by Restoring Hope unquestionably would rank among the biggest upsets in the history of the sport, it is not out of the question for him to get into the superfecta at huge odds.”
10. Gronkowski (12-1). “He’s making his United States debut and first start on dirt after racing on turf and synthetic surfaces in England. While there no doubt there will be those who put some money on him solely because he’s named after the accomplished tight end for the New England Patriots, it seems to me this is an arduous task for the equine Gronk.”
This piece appeared as part of John Cherwa’s column in the Los Angeles Times.