Justify’s stamina, endurance will settle outcome of Belmont Stakes
Just ahead was the finish line. The watery course at Pimlico suddenly had four contenders for the hardware gifted to the Preakness winner, as well as his jockey, trainer and owner.
The athletic Justify had warded off the best effort Good Magic could muster. But, rushing headlong at the gutsy chestnut’s shrinking lead were Bravazo and Tenfold, as they all but disregarded the mud and water in trying to overtake and pass the Kentucky Derby champion of just two weeks before.
Justify “lasted” as the Daily Racing Form might have tersely given its written explanation of the second jewel of the Triple Crown Series. Bravazo and Tenfold were just short in attempting to derail the racing world’s five-week hold on the public’s quick-to-disappear attention.
And so, it’s this week’s long venture at Belmont Park on Long Island that will give us another Triple Crown hero, or see thoroughbred racing trot back to the shadows of lost interest should he be beaten on a racetrack known interchangeably as “Big Sandy,” “The Graveyard of Champions” and “Secretariat’s Playground”.
Justify, the tall, reddish and leggy runner whose record now shows five lifetime races and five wins. Who can beat him? His ambitious schedule, lettered for him by trainer Bob Baffert, can beat him.
This will be his third race in just five weeks – all at different tracks. All at different distances. All against competitive fields with no regard for potential Triple Crown history.
Bravazo is back. Tenfold is back. A larger-than-average Belmont Stakes field is on hand.
It’s possible that 11 or even 12 horses will compete for the blanket of white carnations the champion will have draped over his neck in the people-packed winner’s circle.
Justify will be the favorite among the 95,000 or so equine bettors.
He will be at his photogenic best. Regal head, complemented by an auburn mane and gray forehead. Timber tall, from ground to the top of jockey Mike Smith’s beaming face. Coppery flanks. Muscular backside. Lengthy strides. Cooperative for such a young charger. Obviously courageous, after showing his late-stretch run at Pimlico.
Joining the fun this week will be Hofburg, another eye-catching chestnut with a smaller white patch on his regal forehead. He’s trained by the always-dangerous Bill Mott and will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. His daddy is bright gray Tapit, a sire of much impact in today’s thoroughbred world.
A might-be starter is Restoring Hope, a dark brown missile also trained by Baffert. Blended Citizen has been mentioned as another possible thorn in Justify’s side.
The whole menagerie of owners and trainers know Justify wants the lead or wants to be just off the leader. Will any of them want to chance jeopardizing their hopes by running out on top with the betting favorite? Or will they all settle in behind Justify’s three-length lead and hope the 1 1/2-mile distance swallows his Triple Crown bid?
Justify won in the slop at Churchill Downs. He won in the slop at Pimlico. Will it rain again? Will American Pharoah (the 2015 Triple Crown champion) have company in the nearly exclusive Triple Crown Club?
A sleek chestnut with ears pricked and the behavior of a more seasoned competitor will certainly have the answers to all the questions welling up about the 2018 Belmont Stakes.