By Shawn Rychling
Forty-five years ago, when Secretariat decimated four opponents by 31 lengths in the Belmont Stakes, he became the first 3-year-old to sweep the Triple Crown since 1948, ending a 25-year drought. Just four years later, in 1977, Seattle Slew swept the three races and then the very next year, Affirmed outdueled Alydar to win the 1978 Belmont by a whisker and become the third horse in five years to wear the crown.
After that, horse racing fans had to wait 37 years, and 12 Belmont defeats by horses that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, before American Pharoah became the next horse to take racing’s greatest prize in 2015.
But maybe, like the 1970s, these things come in bunches.
Justify is undefeated and will be making just the sixth start of his career in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes as he goes for the Triple Crown. He broke his maiden on Feb. 18 and was the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby having not raced as 2-year-old. It is hard to fathom that a horse can have a shot at the Triple Crown with just five races under his belt. But that is horse racing in the modern era.
Like American Pharoah, Justify is trained by Bob Baffert, who seems as quietly confident this week as he was in 2015 when American Pharoah made it look relatively easy in winning the Belmont.
As for Saturday’s race it is hard to imagine picking against Justify, but it is also hard to imagine a horse grabbing the Triple Crown in just the sixth race of his career.
If you want to take a shot against the favorite it may be with Todd Pletcher’s Vino Rosso. This one has some ability to rate and stay close to the lead and that is vital in a 12-furlong race.
Here is a closer look at the Belmont and Saturday’s Late Pick 4.
Race 10: (2) One Go All Go has most consistent speed figures in the field, but did get beat last time by two rivals entered here. (13) Spring Quality moved forward on turf last few starts and Prado can win with a longshot, but the wide post can be a concern in these Belmont turf routes. (10) Beach Patrol may be the horse to beat off last three speed figures and may prefer firm turf to yielding. (3) Hi Happy has won two in a row and two-back race is best speed figure of this bunch. (8) Sadler’s Joy is a bit inconsistent of late, but can surprise and would hate to overlook at a price.
Race 11: 150th running of THE BELMONT STAKES, Grade 1 – (1) Justify is unbeaten and awfully tough to pick against after he drew the rail in a race with little speed while the 1 ½-mile distance favors horses that stay in touch with the field. And that’s despite the fact how difficult it is to fathom that this horse has a shot at horse racing’s ultimate prize in just his sixth career start. Only one horse starting from his outside looks fast enough to keep up. Yes, speed figures are decreasing, but can’t really fault this one for his race in a surreal Preakness over a slow track. Feeling here is Baffert gets second Triple Crown in wire-to-wire fashion. (8) Vino Rosso can be forgiven for sloppy and wide Derby try. We love recent works and chance to move forward from his victory in the Wood Memorial. (9) Noble Indy is going to try to send with the favorite and may have enough left to hold on for a piece after he gets dusted at the quarter pole. (4) Hofburg likes to gain ground late, but may only have enough for a minor award today. Still a must-use in back end of trifectas and supers. (10) Blended Citizen is a fresh horse, new to the Triple Crown, having won the Peter Pan over this track a month ago. We liked him that day, but didn’t expect him to show up in this spot. That said, he enters off a career best and is a price horse to use in exotics at least.
Race 12: – (1) Macagone hasn’t been very good in last two, and really not very good going back to last summer. However, the 7 furlongs last time isn’t really his game and the rail post should help his early-speed tactics in this spot. Love this horse and we’ll give him one more shot. (3) Slim Shadey has finished first or second in last seven starts. (10) Soluble sports most consistent recent speed figures, including career-best two starts back in a Grade 3 event. (9) Battle of Blenheim has room to improve with just five starts under his belt.
Race 13: – (9) Chris and Dave seemed to take to this track last time moving forward smartly last time posting best speed figure in recent memory. (10) Wicked Macho enters off career-best race which came at this track and distance. (12) Myakka River needed that last race off a 51-week layoff. (1) Proven Reserves may be the horse to beat off the sharp debut win. (3) Just Whistle ran well in Grade 3 last time and winner of that race is in the big one today.
A B C
Race 10 2, 13 3, 10 8
Race 11 1 8 4, 9, 10
Race 12 1, 3 10 9
Race 13 1, 9 3, 10 12
Best of luck and find out how to get all our Hot List analysis for at Interbets.com.
And when we wake up Sunday morning after the Triple Crown is over, we’ll have only 40 days until Saratoga!