The featured 11th race on the Belmont Park card is the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes which will be run around 2 sweeping turns over Belmont’s dirt course. Justify, with his 4-5 morning line and undefeated record, will attempt to become the 13th Triple Crown winner in the history of the sport when he battles 9 foes in the grueling third jewel of the series.
While Belmont does not card many 1.5 mile affairs, recent statistics show that 27% of dirt routes of 1.25 miles or more are won wire to wire, with a fair distribution across post positions.
Justify will be breaking from the rail where he will most likely use his superior early foot to take control of the pace. No one else in the field has shown any proclivity for the font end, and the danger is that Justify gets to set an easy first half. As usual, the 1.5 mile distance has brought a plethora of closers to the gate, but if Justify gives them no pace to run at, this race could be over early.
But let’s say that Justify doesn’t get that easy lead. Let’s also consider his diminishing margin in the Preakness where Baffert/Mike Smith both “claim” Justify was shut down the last 200 yards. And we can’t dismiss that nobody in the field has run this far before, and in reality, no thoroughbred wants to run this far. So let’s look for a better price.
Sitting just behind Justify will be Preakness runner-up Bravazo, along with Tenfold, Noble Indy, Vino Rosso and Gronkowski. Further back will be the group of closers laying in the weeds: Hofburg, Free Drop Billy, Blended Citizen and Restoring Hope. If the pace is as tame as I predict, the closers will have too tall a task, so I will focus on the stalker group.
Bravazo looks like he is near peak condition again after a couple of rough efforts leading into the Preakness. Vino Rosso, after a disappointing Derby, skipped the Preakness and will be coming in fresh. The same can be said for 15-1 longshot Noble Indy who really struggled in the Churchill Downs slop. Gronkowski is shipping in from across the pond, which has not been a recipe for Triple Crown success.
The horse I landed on is Tenfold. Trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Ricardo Santana, Tenfold bypassed the Kentucky Derby and finished a game 3rd in the Preakness by a mere ¾’s of a length. His speed figures, while not prodigious, have shown a steady progression in every start of his 4 race career. With only these 4 career starts, Tenfold should be fresh. He is a colt by Curlin so his breeding suggests he can handle the added distance. And he had a bumpy and wide ride in the Preakness which suggests he can keep improving off of that effort.
While I will root for Justify to make history, my money will be on Tenfold for the win.