Everyone wants to see Justify win the Triple Crown, don’t they?
Of course they do. Most of the 90,000 people who will flock to Belmont Park on Saturday want to see it. Bob Baffert, the trainer who won the Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah, wants to do it again with Justify. And you know jockey Mike Smith is geared up for it.
Saturday is a big sports day in New York. But the Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets has to take a backseat to Baffert, Smith and Justify. The chestnut horse is running for a place in history and, the way he has been going so far, who dare say he won’t get it done?
He has raced five times. Won them all. OK, so the margin of victory has gotten smaller in each win. But, as Smith told me a week or so ago, “Michael Jordan didn’t win every one of his games by 50.”
So, you give him a pass for the narrow half length win over Bravazo in the Preakness. There have been whispers in the Baffert camp that the Belmont might be the easiest race of the Triple Crown for Justify. It might be.
Justify is the best horse in the race. That, I have no doubt. But I can’t pick him. I didn’t select him to win the Kentucky Derby when he was 5-2 and I wasn’t on him when he won the Preakness at 2-5. How can I pick him when he is 4-5 on the Belmont morning line?
I can’t. And I won’t. As good as Justify is, there are just too many things that can go wrong — and have gone wrong — with horses that were this close to winning a Triple Crown. This will bee Justify’s sixth race in just 111 days. That comes out to an average of a race every 18.5 days.
Maybe it catches up with the big horse Saturday. Maybe the mile and a half gets him. Maybe none of it. Maybe he is just that much better than the rest of these, which is entirely possible.
I am going to try and beat him with a price. And I will land on one of the Todd Pletcher-traineed horses in the 10-horse field. Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso. He is 8-1 on the morning line and he comes into this race the way Pletcher wants his horses to come into these races: fresh.
He hasn’t raced since a ho-hum ninth place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Jockey John Velazquez told me Thursday that Vino Rosso never tried in the Derby; he hated the sloppy track from the start.
Johnny V went so far as to say that if the track came up wet for the Belmont, “I am not going to count on (Vino Rosso) very much.”
Well, thank goodness that rain is not in the forecast for Belmont Park on Saturday.
Vino Rosso has won three of six career starts. The son of Curlin (who was beaten by a head in the 2007 Belmont by the Pletcher trained filly, Rags to Riches) has been pointed to this race since he was a 2-year-old.
Pletcher said he has talked to owner Mike Repole about the Belmont since last November.
“As he mature a little more, we thought time would be on his side,” Pletcher said. “We always felt this was the race for him.”
Pletcher wants to see Vino Rosso get into a nice rhythm for the long run around the Belmont oval and, when the time comes, Johnny V unleashes him into the stretch. I think he will get to a tiring Justify and get to the wire first.
I see Justify holding for second and then there is a good battle for the other spots. Included in that bunch is Bravazo, Tenfold, Hofburg and maybe even the other Pletcher runner, Noble Indy, who could be a pace presence.
The picks: 1. Vino Rosso. 2. Justify. 3. Bravazo. 4. Tenfold.