Belmont Access starts everything off on Friday from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Coverage continues on NBCSN on Saturday with Belmont Prep from 2-4 p.m. ET before moving to NBC from 4-7 p.m. ET. Post time for the mile-and-a-half “Test of the Champion” is scheduled for 6:46 p.m.
Randy Moss, who has worked at every major racetrack in North America, will again be one of the major figures on NBC’s broadcast. He shared his insights into Justify’s attempt to join Seattle Slew as the only undefeated Triple Crown winners and other subjects related to this year’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes during a question-and-answer session with Tom Pedulla:
PEDULLA: What does a Triple Crown possibility do for the broadcast?
MOSS: It makes all the difference in the world. When you look at the ratings for a Belmont Stakes that does not have the possibility of a Triple Crown winner and you compare them to, say, American Pharoah’s 2015 Belmont, it’s night and day.
PEDULLA: Justify has kept to a demanding schedule. How big a concern is that?
MOSS: My biggest concern when they crossed the finish line at Pimlico was that regardless of what analytics you use, what speed system you subscribe to, he probably ran three to five lengths slower in the Preakness Stakes than he did in the Kentucky Derby despite a much more favorable pace scenario. Typically, that does not bode well for a horse trying to come back and run three weeks later in the Belmont. But that situation is what separates the greats from the goods.
PEDULLA: How do you think the pace sets up?
MOSS: Similar to American Pharoah, there doesn’t appear to be much pace competition for Justify in this Belmont. About the only other horse that you can only remotely think could go to the lead is Noble Indy, who is also co-owned by WinStar Farm. So Justify might have a tactical advantage that will help his chances.
PEDULLA: Justify has been on or near the lead in all five of his starts. Must he run that way to win?
MOSS: I don’t at all think Justify is a horse that needs to be on the lead to win. I think he showed that not only in the allowance race he won prior to the Santa Anita Derby but in the Santa Anita Derby itself, where he set a very controlled, very relaxed pace, that he’ll be just fine if some other horse decides to go out to the early lead.
PEDULLA: How much has jockey Mike Smith been an asset to Justify?
MOSS: Obviously, Justify is so talented that it’s not just Mike Smith who could be in the position he’s in now. He’d be the first one to tell you that he’s very fortunate to have the mount. His goal is basically to get him out of the gate and then to stay out of his way. But with Mike’s experience and his ability to adapt to things that get thrown at him, I think it makes (trainer) Bob (Baffert) sleep a lot easier at night, knowing that if something does happen that calls for an experienced hand, he’s got one of the best.
PEDULLA: Who do you see as the main threat to Justify?
MOSS: Off the top of my head, you have to look first and foremost at anything trained by Todd Pletcher that ran in the Derby and then was withheld from the Preakness. That’s been such a strong move by Pletcher in the past, even in the races he didn’t win. So Noble Indy and Vino Rosso, especially Vino Rosso, will be a couple of horses I’m going to be looking at. But if Justify has no pace competition, then they all could be in trouble.
PEDULLA: What did you think of Bravazo’s performance as a runner-up in the Preakness? Is he a threat here?
MOSS: I thought Bravazo moved up a few lengths from his Kentucky Derby, and his Kentucky Derby was a lot better than people realize. He was five wide on both turns. He would have been a candidate to hit the board in the Derby with just a reasonable trip.
PEDULLA: Is Tenfold a horse to watch?
MOSS: I think he is. He’s a horse that’s bred in spades to handle the mile and a half (distance), which nowadays you can’t really say about a lot of horses. He’s also in very capable hands (Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen) and going in the right direction.
PEDULLA: Your opinion of Hofburg?
MOSS: I think he’s right there in the mix.
PEDULLA: Is Gronkowski a bit of a wild card here?
MOSS: I have no idea what to think of Gronkowski. I don’t know if anybody has any idea what to think of him. Just based on his races in England, you wouldn’t think he would have any shot at all. But he’s a complete wild card.