He has taken us through every Derby prep since February, and at the end of the Triple Crown season, Brian Nadeau is back with his final race preview, as Justify tries to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. Can he do it? Brian takes a look.
Belmont Park: The GI, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles
by Brian Nadeau
#1 Justify (4-5): Undefeated Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero will look to join racing’s most elite club when he tries to become the 13th Triple Crown winner, just three years removed from American Pharoah turning the trick. Son of Scat Daddy has answered every question Baffert has asked so far, though you got the impression that his historic schedule—he was an unraced maiden in February—might be catching up to him as he had to work very hard to beat Bravazo in Baltimore. Still, there’s not much here and his perceived “main” rival is eligible to be N2L here this week, so he’s clearly going to take some beating. But we are also gambling here, and his odds will be minuscule and coming off one of the slowest Classic wins in recent memory, while going 1 1/2 miles, it might be the time to try and end the fairy tale; plenty scary, but making him prove it.
#2 Free Drop Billy (30-1): Huge longshot has done nothing to suggest he‘s a player here, as he was 16th in the Derby and has yet to make a real dent in any of his four starts this year. Son of Union Rags keeps firing in the morning for Romans, but even in a race where there have been plenty of bombers over the years, this won’t be one of them; easy toss.
#3 Bravazo (8-1): Game Preakness runner-up was coming on at the wire and almost pulled off the huge surprise for Lukas, who usually keeps them when they get good, so there’s no reason to think he won’t fire right back. Son of Awesome Again also gives the impression he’ll be one of the ones in here that will appreciate the added ground, which is more than most can say. The price will be right, too, as you know they’ll send it in on Justify, and Hofburg next door is getting all sorts of publicity, so if he’s for you, swing hard; looms the main danger.
#4 Hofburg (9-2): Massive underlay is clearly the “buzz” horse, even though he’s got nothing more than a maiden win to his credit, so while he does have talent and upside, this is one big ask. On the plus side, he was a solid (and troubled) seventh in the Derby, and Mott has always held him in high regard and doesn’t run them where they can’t compete, so you know he likes what he has here. The rub is his price, and the fact he’s never come close to beating winners, so while he’ll probably win something big before it’s all said and done, it’s a bit presumptuous to think this will be it; making him prove it.
#5 Restoring Hope (30-1): Baffert longshot was a no-show 12th in the slop in the GIII Pat Day Mile Derby Day and is in a tough spot here, as he was well-beaten by fringe player Vino Rosso in Aqueduct’s GII Wood Memorial in April. Son of Giant’s Causeway should trip out nicely in here, but when the real running begins, it’s tough to think he’ll be sticking around; not seeing it.
#6 Gronkowski (12-1): The wildcard qualified for the Derby for Noseda through a series of wins in Europe, then was forced to pass due to a minor injury and will now make his stateside debut for Brown. Son of Lonhro (AUS) has also never run past a mile and was beating far, far inferior runners than he meets here, so while his trainer has been known to work wonders, this seems way too much; no thanks.
#7 Tenfold (12-1): Lightly raced and improving colt was a big third in the Preakness and was closing late on the winner in what was a real breakthrough performance for Asmussen. Son of Curlin is bred for this and has the right stalking style to trip out close to what looks like a modest pace, and while they are all unknown going this far, he seems like he’ll handle it as good as anyone. The price will be right here, too, as some will view that run at Old Hilltop in the slop as a fluke, but he’s on the upswing and appears to have plenty of talent; price players are landing here.
#8 Vino Rossi (8-1): Wood winner is one of two in here for Pletcher, who has won this race three times and has a penchant for getting his runners to peak on this day. Curlin colt has a pedigree that suggests this distance is in play, and with the slow pace expected he’ll be closer early, which isn’t a bad thing, either. The price figures a bit short based on his connections, but with the barn’s success in this race, you could do worse; eligible for a share.
#9 Noble Indy (30-1): Pletcher’s second was 17th in the Derby and will look for a major form reversal as he tries to get back to his GII Louisiana Derby win at Fair Grounds. Speedy son of Take Charge Indy is likely going to be glued to Justify throughout and has Castellano, who is the best long-distance dirt jock we have in the country, so if the big horse stubs his toe, this colt will be there to take advantage. On the face of it, he’s never run remotely fast enough to win this, but neither had Ruler On Ice, Da’Tara or Sarava, so in a race that seems a little funky, here’s hoping he blows it up; bombs away.
#10 Blended Citizen (15-1): Son of Proud Citizen won the local prep, the GIII Peter Pan, in fine fashion for O’Neill, in an effort that suggests the added ground could agree with him today. Deep closer is at the mercy of the pace, though, and with the splits more like a turf race, he’s going to be left a lot to do late, which isn’t an ideal situation in a race like this; siding against.