Justify Ready for the Test of the Champion at Belmont in Triple Crown Bid
Known as the “Test of the Champion,” the Belmont Stakes serves as the third jewel in the American Triple Crown and Justify will try to complete the sweep at its demanding 1 ½-mile distance. Justify is now 5-for-5 after winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and he’ll try to gallop his way into history as the 13th three-year-old to capture the Triple Crown.
Triple Crown Expectations
Justify is the 36th horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. But only 12 horses have pulled off the Triple Crown sweep. If you listen to many media members and even noted horse handicappers, you will hear numerous opinions on Justify and his chances in winning the Belmont Stakes and completing the Triple Crown. From questions about his slower Beyer Speed Figure in the Preakness, to how Justify had to hang on in the Preakness, to his perfect trip in the Kentucky Derby and the sloppy, off tracks in both those Triple Crown races, there are both believers and naysayers.
In correspondence with a sharp handicapper, I echo some comments and add some commentary. Expectations are a funny thing in racing. Justify was so built up prior to the Preakness that anything less than a trouncing would be conceived as a failure. The reality is, the sealed track at Churchill was different than the Pimlico sealed surface, and the very best handicappers understand that slow fractions while eyeballing another horse are not the same as slow fractions relaxing by yourself.
So at Pimlico for the Preakness, Justify was running over a very muddy, off track that was sticky and drying out, not as quick as the Churchill Downs surface. He also dealt with another element as the unusual ‘fog’ overlapped the track. Justify was confronted throughout the race, eyeballing his rival Good Magic and having to move early to shake him off before having to deal with a couple others who benefited from the initial seven-eighths. Yet Justify still prevailed. Seriously, what's the problem? Throw in the fact he was actually battle tested down the lane for the first time, and I’m a believer that Justify will provide a big Belmont effort over the longer, more methodical distance.
Betting the Belmont Stakes and Justify
Justify drew the No. 1 post position on the rail and should settle well on the front end or stalking along the lead, get an easier trip while saving ground with Belmont’s large, sweeping turns. Justify is the fastest 3-year-old dirt horse in training, and as long as he takes to the added distance fine, we expect his Belmont Stakes performance to be terrific. The Triple Crown will be Justified by the horse known as ‘Big Red’ in the barn, and the jockey known as ‘Big Money’ Mike Smith in the saddle with tremendous trainer Bob Baffert getting his second Triple Crown winner joining 2015 champion American Pharoah.
You won’t make much money betting on Justify to win or even place, as he’s the prohibitive 4-5 morning line favorite in the Belmont Stakes. But as we saw in the Preakness when Bravazo (15-1) closed fast and furious late to get 2nd just a half length behind Justify, and the longest shot in the field Tenfold (26-1) got up for 3rd, you can still make a solid score on the exacta and trifecta. Those vertical exotic bets paid $13 and $148 on a $1 wager in the Preakness when Justify closed as the heavy 3-5 favorite.
The vertical payoffs won’t likely be as big if Justify wins the ‘Test of the Champion’, and the Belmont Stakes may not be the best betting race. However, Belmont Stakes Day is one of the very best racing and wagering days of the year with 10 stakes races including six Grade 1 events that offer many wonderful wagering opportunities. If you like Justify to win, you can isolate him on top in your exacta, trifecta, superfecta wagers, and add him to other pick 3 and pick 4 options to as a single winner.
Bravazo (8-1) and Tenfold (12-1) are back to battle Justify again after nearly chasing him down in the Preakness. Preference to challenge is Belmont-based Vino Rosso (8-1), perhaps a more viable threat to include for last year’s Belmont Stakes-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, a race we cashed in on with the winner Tapwrit. Top-jock John Velazquez and Vino Rosso won the Wood Memorial before running wide and finishing 9th in the Kentucky Derby. Lightly-raced Hofburg (9-2) has just a maiden win and is another closer who finished 2nd in Florida Derby before rallying for 7th in the Kentucky Derby despite being steadied twice. Top rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. is a proven performer on the New York circuit and both those Derby runners are rested, ready and in good hands in the saddle. Peter Pan winner Blended Citizen (15-1) is the new shooter who looms as the long shot of modest interest to provide a bigger exotic score in the vertical wagers.
But none of those 3-year-olds are as fast, talented or strong as Justify. Will he get out front and stay the distance to win going away like American Pharoah did in securing the 2015 Triple Crown at Belmont? There is certainly no sure thing when it comes to horse racing or wagering on a prohibitive favorite or Triple Crown threat. California Chrome (4-5) proved that in his 2014 Belmont bid as he stumbled from the gate and lost his chance at the Triple Crown.
But however you Justify Big Red’s position in this race and potential historic performance, know that these type of major events and platforms add interest to horse racing. So too does the recent Supreme Court decision on sports betting. The 150th running of the Belmont Stakes is a historic one, and when Justify digs down deep to hold off his 9 rivals and numerous closing types trying to rally late, it will become even more significant.
You can bet on it.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay