Now, the wait begins!
Post positions have been drawn and the field is set for Saturday’s Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Belmont Park, the third and final leg of the coveted Triple Crown. Three years after trainer Bob Baffert swept the historic series with American Pharoah, he’s back to seek a second sweep with the unbeaten #1 Justify. In just over 48 hours, we’ll watch with excitement to see if the talented chestnut can prevail in the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion” and become racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner.
Is there anything that Justify can’t do? After making history with a decisive win in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (becoming the first horse since 1882 to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old), Justify survived a race-long battle for the lead in the Preakness Stakes to win in narrow fashion. Some consider his hard-fought victory to be a sign of regression; a sign that he could be vulnerable in the Belmont Stakes. But I view his close finish as being the result of vying for command from start to finish, which may have prevented him from relaxing as well as he normally does. If Justify settles into a more relaxed rhythm in the Belmont Stakes – the added distance and expected slower pace should help – he could prove very difficult to catch.
On the other hand, breaking from post position one might be less than ideal, as it could force Justify to take the lead in order to avoid getting boxed in along the inside. If one or two of his rivals gets aggressive in pushing the pace, it could potentially leave Justify vulnerable to being caught by a late runner.
In my opinion, that late runner could be #8 Vino Rosso. Trained by Todd Pletcher – who has won the Belmont three times since 2007 – Vino Rosso showed flashes of talent during the winter, but really stepped up his game when winning the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct by three lengths with a strong late rally. He subsequently disappointed when finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby, but I believe that was a deceptively good run, as Vino Rosso raced wide throughout and may not have cared for the sloppy track, but nevertheless closed some ground in the homestretch to finish in the top half of the field.
Pletcher has a strong record with Derby runners skipping the Preakness to await the Belmont Stakes, and I’m expecting Vino Rosso to run his best race yet on Saturday. The son of Curlin is bred to relish 1 ½ miles, and the wide turns at Belmont Park should also be to his benefit, given that he’s had some trouble accelerating around the turns at smaller, tighter tracks.
Since Justify will be a heavy favorite, and since I believe Vino Rosso is clearly the most likely upset candidate, let’s play them together in the exacta while adding #3 Bravazo, #4 Hofburg, and #7 Tenfold for the trifecta:
$10 exacta: 1,8 with 1,8 ($20)
$3 trifecta: 1,8 with 1,8 with 3,4,7 ($18)
$2 trifecta: 1,8 with 3,4,7 with 1,8 ($12)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!