Justify will go for the Triple Crown in Saturday’s 150th running of the Belmont Stakes. A convincing winner of his first four starts, the Bob Baffert-trained colt was put to the test in the Preakness and a weakening half-length victory didn’t leave me brimming with confidence about his Belmont Stakes.
But the supremely talented colt appeared to bounce back well from the tough race in his morning preparations at Churchill Downs, recording a pair of impressive works, and I was leaning toward giving him the advantage if he drew a decent post in the 1 ½-mile Belmont. Unfortunately, Justify received the rail.
The rail post leaves Mike Smith no options and opens the possibility for Bravazo (in post 3) and possibly others to be dogging Justify from the start if he doesn’t clear. The Triple Crown, with three long-distance races in a five-week window, is difficult enough without any obstacles and I thought an inside post (2) cost California Chrome a viable chance at the 2014 Triple Crown when he couldn’t show the same speed from previous starts.
1ST Selection: TENFOLD
Tenfold didn’t make his career debut until mid-February and after recording pair of nice wins over maiden and entry-level allowance rivals, he finished fifth making his stakes debut in the Arkansas Derby (G1). The Curlin colt benefitted greatly from the experience when coming back in the Preakness for Steve Asmussen. Overlooked at 26-1, he experienced a less-than-favorable trip when roughed up by another rival in the early stages but overcame the trouble to offer a stout finish, closing determinedly to miss by less than a length in third. Out of a mare by Tapit, who has sired three of the last four winners of the Belmont, Tenfold has trained forwardly in preparation since the Preakness and the lightly-raced colt still has plenty of upside. His BRIS Speed ratings have increased in every start and he has the right run style with his tactical speed and a favorable draw in post 7. I’m expecting further improvement and will tab Tenfold for a minor upset.
2ND Selection: JUSTIFY
If Justify breaks running and reaches the opening quarter-mile pole with a cushion similar to American Pharoah, they won’t beat him. The probable odds-on favorite can get into a rhythm on a short lead and save plenty for the latter stages. That makes the start of the Belmont Stakes absolutely critical to his chances and I have my doubts everything will go smoothly. But I still have the ultimate respect for what Justify has accomplished and he’s cleared every challenge in his path so far. The Bob Baffert-trained son of Scat Daddy will be included in my multi-race wagers.
3RD Selection: BLENDED CITIZEN
Blended Citizen brings improving form into the race for Doug O’Neill and is the only member of the field with a start over the track, winning the May 12 Peter Pan (G2) going away by 1 ½ lengths. I like how the late runner displayed better tactical speed last time (doesn’t want to be too far back in early stages Saturday) and the Proud Citizen colt is as versatile as they come, winning on dirt, turf and synthetic. Blended Citizen looks capable of rallying into the frame for a minor award in the latter stages.
4TH Selection: VINO ROSSO
Vino Rosso broke through with a convincing tally in the Wood Memorial (G2) two back and I won’t count his ninth in the Kentucky Derby against him. Todd Pletcher knows how to get a horse ready for his best in Belmont Stakes, recording a pair of wins and a pair of seconds over the last five runnings, and Vino Rosso is eligible to receive a nice stalking trip from his outside post. I will include the Curlin colt in vertical exotics.
Hofburg and Bravazo are eligible to outrun my expectations, but I didn’t Hofburg’s draw in post 4 (he likes to be outside of horses) and fear a regression for Bravazo off a game Preakness effort.
Good luck in the Belmont Stakes!