Going over the opponents for Justified

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Trainer Bob Baffert has become a master when it comes to the Triple Crown. He just failed to win with Real Quiet who opened up down the lane under Kent Desormeaux but couldn’t hold on.

Baffert is now looking for his second Triple Crown winner in just three years and that in itself is an amazing feat even for a Hall of Fame trainer.

He does get the best 2-year-olds in the country but so does Todd Pletcher. But it seems Baffert has a set way of getting them this far while Pletcher’s horses seem to need at least five or six weeks between races.

In the 70’s I was fortunate enough to see three great horses win the Kentucky Derby with each going on to win the Triple Crown – the great Secretariat in 1973, the undefeated Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. Back in the 70’s you could actually drive from Steubenville, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky in no time. We would always stop at a few tracks on the way as my friends and I would usually head out on a Wednesday with a stop in Columbus for some fun. You could actually afford to get into the Churchill race track and there were always guys out front hawking tickets for 20 bucks.

When Seattle Slew won he had broke his maiden just 8½ months before winning the Belmont Stakes. Now we get Justify trying to do it in less than four months. Can he do it?

Before the Kentucky Derby most handicappers stated this was the deepest field of 3-year-olds in years. Well, most have gone to the sidelines looking for easier spots but we will have a nice field of at least 10 runners in the Belmont. We hope the rain will stay away for one Triple Crown race and a huge undercard at Belmont this Saturday. The early forecast was sunny and 68 degrees.

Here are the runners that look to take a shot at the undefeated Justify:

Bandua: In from Ireland for world class trainer Dermont K. Weld. This colt by The Factor won both of his starts in Cork, Ireland in easy fashion and both were at the distance of 1¼ on the grass. His first grass race was listed on a heavy turf course and his second on a soft course. If he goes will he take to the dirt? This trainer thinks so if he runs.

Blended Citizen: Seems to have put it all together for Doug O’Neill and we must give him credit for keeping the low profile jockey Kyle Frew up for this race. He rode this horse to perfection in the Peter Pan stakes on this course on May 12 for an easy win albeit vs. not much.

Bravazo: After running a stinker on a fast track in the Louisiana Derby vs. Noble Indy, Bravazo woke up on back to back sloppy tracks in the Kentucky Derby with a good sixth place finish and second by a half -length in the Preakness. He had every shot in the Preakness with a perfect setup when on the best part of the track but could not get by Justify – and he never will!

Free Drop Billy: He beat Bravazo last year at Keeneland in a Grade 1 but has not won since. You must respect trainer Dale Romans but this colt is just not good enough.

Gronkowski: Makes his first start in the country for another good Euro trainer, Jeremy Noseda. This colt has won four in a row on synthetic surfaces after losing his first two starts on the grass. Not sure who he beat over the pond and has never gone further than a mile. We will pass.

Hofburg: Bill Mott would not send this colt here unless he thought he had a shot. He is lightly raced, getting just his fifth start for the great connections of Juddmonte Farms Inc., with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding. Irad knows this track like the palm of his hand. He can get this distance and is a “must use” off his good second in the Florida Derby behind Audible, who would have been the second choice in this race if he’d have gone. Hofburg is a must use.

Noble Indy: Was almost 60/1 in the Kentucky Derby and just hated the off track. He could only beat a horse by the name of Lone Sailor by a neck in the Louisiana Derby. He does fit the Pletcher five weeks off pattern.

Restoring Hope: So why would Baffert run this colt in this spot? We think he wants to use him as a target for Justify. He has some big works and ran well in all of his races with the exception of his last start on the slop in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.

Seahenge: Gets his second start in the country and was also in the Pat Day Mile for Aidan O’Brien going off at almost 40/1. We will pass.

Tenfold: Was right behind Justify and Bravazo in the Preakness as he also got the perfect trip. May be over bet here, but with Steve Asmussen the trainer he is a must use in the exotics.

Vino Rosso: The other Pletcher runner in the race and the one we think has the best shot at taking down Justify. He ran a better-than-looked ninth in the Kentucky Derby and fits Pletcher’s time pattern. He can get this distance and John Velazquez will ride. At 5-1 or higher he will be worth a shot.

Our Belmont Superfecta: 1. Justify, 2. Vino Rosso, 3. Hofburg, 4. Blended Citizen/Tenfold. The longshot: Bandua.

If you have a chance take in one of the free seminars around the city. They are fun and very informative. You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.

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