In my preview of the Preakness, I noted that that race, in general, lacks the chaos of the Kentucky Derby. Ha—famous last words, before a race that took place after a week of downpours and on a track so encased in fog we couldn’t see the horses.
And as he has every time he’s been on the track, Justify handled it, albeit with a little more effort than in his previous races, holding off Bravazo by a half-length, who was just a neck in front of Tenfold.
Justify will face those two rivals along with seven others on Saturday at Belmont Park. After a week of varying forecasts, it looks now like the day will be mostly dry, with perhaps a storm here and there. A sloppy track is obviously a benefit to Justify; would a fast, dry track make his job easier or more difficult?
What the Belmont does have in common with the Preakness is the puzzle of making a profitable wager when you have a deserving, short-priced favorite. A lot of people will watch the race with the hope only of seeing the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner. A lot of other people will watch the race with the hope of making money, and we’re looking at them as we offer handicapping advice for the 150th Belmont Stakes.
If you followed Emily’s and Candice’s Preakness advice, you cashed a ticket. Let’s do it again this time.
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Good luck and safe trips to all…
Candice Hare, TVG on-air host/analyst: The Belmont Stakes rightfully revolves around Justify and his attempt at one of horse racing’s most difficult feats: the Triple Crown. A wet track is once again possible, and, as was discussed prior to the Preakness, I am of the opinion that Justify does not run his best races under these conditions. Combine the possible wet going with the furthest distance he’s ever faced and, for once on the Triple Crown trail, Justify appears vulnerable.
The two horses we’ll lean on most are the two most unexposed types in the field. Hofburg became a Belmont buzz horse after closing strongly in the Kentucky Derby. He’s lightly raced, having made only four starts in his career, he shapes like a horse who is open to further improvement, and his regal pedigree lends itself to the final jewel of the Triple Crown. We’ll similarly use Tenfold, who is stepping out for the fifth time. He took a significant step forward in the Preakness and his trainer Steve Asmussen — who won this race with Creator in 2016 — was bullish about his Belmont chances prior to his strong Preakness effort.
To a lesser extent, Bravazo is once again worth considering given how much improvement he finds over a wet track, and Blended Citizen appeals of the heavier-raced types, following a career-best run in the Peter Pan, a local prep for this contest.
From a wagering perspective, this is one of the rare occasions where a small outlay can lead to massive scores should Justify finish outside the top three with a Triple Crown on the line. I’ll be wagering accordingly. I’d advise using Hofburg, Tenfold, Bravazo and Blended Citizen in horizontal sequences through the race. Additionally, I’ll look to place a win wager on Hofburg, key Hofburg on top of an exacta with the other three underneath and use Hofburg and Tenfold on top of a trifecta using all four individuals in the place and show positions.
Seth Merrow, publisher of Equidaily.com and handicapper for Capitol OTB: Triple Crowns are hard! That’s why they don’t happen often and they’re special when they do. So Justify is no lock.
He’s run in–and won–five races since the middle of February, more than any other Belmont entrant in that time period. His winning margin has decreased with each start. He barely held off two of his Belmont foes in a ding-dong Preakness finish. His Beyer number (a numerical representation of a race performance) for the Preakness was the lowest of his career. And, again, the Triple Crown is a difficult task.
Those are the knocks.
On the other hand, Justify is trained by Bob Baffert, the man who trained American Pharoah to the Triple Crown just four years ago, breaking a 37-year drought. His jockey is the cagey veteran Mike Smith. His workouts since the Preakness seem to indicate he’s holding good form. And, perhaps most importantly, he just seems, at least at this point in the season, like the best three-year-old.
So, I think Justify (#1) will win the Belmont Stakes. But, he’s not invincible. Vino Rosso (#8) is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has won the Belmont Stakes three times. Previous to the Belmont Stakes, all three of Pletcher’s winners had their last start at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend (2017 Tapwrit sixth and 2013 Palace Malice 12th in the Kentucky Derby, and 2007 Rags to Riches first in the Kentucky Oaks). Vino Rosso ran in the Kentucky Derby, finishing an OK ninth. He seems like a solid contender under the tutelage of Pletcher.
Blended Citizen (#10) comes out of a good-looking win in the Peter Pan at Belmont, so he has a recent win over the track. The last horse to win both the Peter Pan and the Belmont Stakes was Tonalist in 2014. He defeated Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome. According to the aforementioned Beyers, Blended Citizen probably needs to step it up a smidge, but just last year Tapwrit increased his Beyer fifteen points from his previous start when winning the Belmont Stakes.
Finally, I’ll toss in Tenfold (#7), who lightly raced and improving for trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the Belmont in 2016 with Creator.
Bravazo (#3), Hofburg (#4), and Noble Indy (#9) all have enough going for them to be considered live contenders.
Brian Nadeau, handicapper at Horseplayer Now and Brooklyn Backstretch: Immortality awaits Justify, and he’s a very likely winner, but we’re gambling here and taking a short price on a horse who has been asked to do a lot in less than four months isn’t a good idea, especially when big prices abound in a race that has been known to be chaotic. Noble Indy is interesting at a huge price, as he should be just off the speed of Justify in an otherwise paceless race under Javier Castellano, the best long-distance dirt jock in the country, and for a Pletcher barn that has won this race three times. Bravazo is the more likely danger off a come-again second in the Preakness and he’ll like this unknown 1 1/2 miles more than most. Tenfold is another who will be playable after showing he belongs with a close third in the Preakness, and he still has upside, unlike most of them in here. I’ll be making a win/place bet on Noble Indy while using the three mentioned over Justify in the exotics, especially in the big Pick 4, based on the risk/reward they offer in the face of the favorite.
Ed DeRosa, director of marketing for Brisnet.com: Wagering on this year’s Belmont Stakes is not about whether Justify will win the Triple Crown, but, rather, correctly identifying which longshot will perform best.
It was a strategy that paid great dividends in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, as Justify won both races as the favorite but keyed tremendous payoffs in the Derby superfecta ($19,000 with Instilled Regard fourth) and in the Preakness trifecta (147-to-1 with 2-to-5 Justify on top of Bravazo and Tenfold with Good Magic off the board).
As a win bet proposition, I don’t love Justify at even money to win the Belmont Stakes, but it’s impossible to ignore that he doesn’t have to lose for there to be value in exotic wagers such as the aforementioned trifecta (top three finishers) and superfecta (top four finishers).
My key horse will be Blended Citizen, who won the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park before faltering in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in a bid to qualify for the Kentucky Derby field. Trainer Doug O’Neill opted for the Peter Pan over the Preakness Stakes, and the horse responded with his first win on dirt. I think he can get a similar trip to Birdstone’s when he upset Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. I will play him across the board (i.e. to win, place, AND show) as well as keyed with Justify, Hofburg, Bravazo, and Tenfold in exotic wagers.
Emily Gullikson, partner at OptixEQ.com: We could see a Triple Crown winner as #1 Justify clearly stamps himself as the horse to beat. He is a legit favorite and his front-running style gives him that added advantage. On current form there are no other horses in this field that have run fast enough for long enough to challenge him in the early stages. The Belmont Stakes is the “test of stamina” and the first time these horses will be asked to run twelve furlongs, a mile and a half in distance. Seeing as Justify has no reason to not run his race, he will have to pass that “test” and seems the only thing that can get him beat.
#4 Hofburg is listed as the second choice on the morning line and looks to be the most logical to deny a Triple Crown winner. Before the Derby, I stated Hofburg may have more raw talent than Justify; however, Hofburg lacked seasoning and with his off-pace running style in a 20-horse Derby field, Justify had the edge in that race. The Belmont could set up pace-wise for Hofburg, and visually he looks like a horse that will handle the distance. Even with Justify on the front end, most of his rivals will be bunched up chasing him. This will allow Hofburg to make a clear run on the big sweeping turns, and if distance does get to Justify, Hofburg will running on late well within striking range.
#9 Noble Indy was a value play in the Derby and is one right back in the Belmont Stakes. In the Derby, clearly, he did not handle the sloppy race track and raced wide on the worst part of the track. Tossing out his “effort” in the Derby, he has done nothing wrong in each of those previous starts. His Louisiana form was validated when Bravazo nearly pulled the upset in the Preakness Stakes.
#10 Blended Citizen has a local track win and stamina edge along with a fair morning line to round out the exotics. This field is much tougher than the group he handled last out, and the ability to get the marathon distance along with a good closing kick should be enough for an underneath award.
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