Justify field at Belmont

Justify field at Belmont

May 22, 2018 3:00 AM
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Here’s hoping competition trumps collusion in the Belmont Stakes.

The first two legs of the 2018 Triple Crown – The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes – have featured galoshes, plastic ponchos, and Justify.

The Bob Baffert trainee was short on experience, but his enormous ability came through winning the Kentucky Derby by pressing a fast pace and pulling clear in the slop at Churchill Downs May 5.

Last Saturday, Derby runner-up Good Magic hooked Justify from the opening bell in a virtual match race for the first nine furlongs of the Preakness.

 Justify proved he can look a foe in the eye and win the fight, as he put away Good Magic and held safe over the closing Bravazo and Tenfold to win after another week of rain at Pimlico.

The opportunity now exists for Justify to become just the 13th Triple Crown winner in history and second this decade (following American Pharoah in 2015) when he competes in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

The big question now becomes: Will Justify face the best and most qualified 3-year-olds in the Belmont Stakes or a watered down group designed to help him sweep the Triple Crown?

Audible, a close third in the Kentucky Derby, skipped the Preakness Stakes (the usual operating procedure for trainer Todd Pletcher) with an eye on the Belmont Stakes.

However, Audible is owned in part by Win Star Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing, and Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners, all connections that have an ownership interest in Justify.

Win Star Farm President and Chief Executive Elliot Walden told Daily Racing Form on Sunday, “We’ll just take our time on deciding whether Audible will compete in the Belmont. It’s a little harder, the fact you got two of them behind you and you got your sights set on one, so it’s a little bit more complicated decision for sure.”

My Boy Jack, who finished a troubled fifth in the Kentucky Derby, also has some common ownership with Justify since Sol Kumin’s Monomoy Stables is part owner of My Boy Jack. The Keith Desormeaux trainee is proven on turf and has the option of running in the $1.25 million Belmont Derby on turf July 7 instead of the Belmont Stakes.

Solomini, 10th in the Kentucky Derby, has no common ownership with Justify, but he is also trained by Bob Baffert, who said on Sunday plans for Solomini’s next race were to be determined.

The morning after the Kentucky Derby, Baffert said Solomini was possible for the Belmont.

Champions and turf legends need to be determined on the track. Affirmed never ducked Alydar. Seattle Slew faced the older Affirmed in the fall of his 3-year-old campaign.

The current trends in horse racing are huge ownership syndicates and a limited number of high profile trainers with gigantic stables. The results are a reluctance to hook the best competition and to hand pick races where good horses tower over lesser rivals.

I think Justify is good enough to win the Triple Crown. It would be a remarkable achievement for a horse unraced at age two and a Maiden in mid-February of his 3-year-old year to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. But he should have to earn it and not have the Triple Crown handed to him.

Let’s hope all horses deserving of a shot at the Belmont Stakes get their chance and are not denied via decisions by ownership looking out for their best interests.

The sport deserves better. There should not be an asterisk next to Justify’s name should he win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.

Hold all bets for now

California has a long way to go before sports betting is legalized.

A constitutional amendment was introduced in 2017 allowing for sports betting in California. The measure has yet to go to assembly for approval, at which time it would require two-thirds approval by the state Assembly, Senate, and approval by Governor Jerry Brown.

The deadline for legislation to include constitutional amendments for the election in November is June 28, which makes the chances of the measure to appear on the November ballot a “tall measure” according to Adam Capper, legislative director for Assemblyman Adam Gray.

Legislative approval seems more likely in 2019, which would put the measure on the 2020 ballot.

If sports betting is approved at that point, there will be a lengthy process of adopting rules and regulations, and the fight will be on as to who will be able to conduct sports betting.

Racetracks, account wagering providers, card clubs, Indian casinos, sports fantasy websites, and satellite wagering facilities are among the groups that are expected to seek licenses.

A meeting to watch

With all of the criticism of recent stewards’ decisions at Santa Anita, Thursday’s CHRB meeting at 9:30 a.m. should be a hoot.

The public is invited and in fact are allowed three minutes to politely express their concerns and criticisms at the meeting.

Here is the chance for horseplayers to vent their opinions. Get there early, sign up to speak, and you will be heard.

I know my colleague/syndicated handicapper Bob Ike plans to attend. You should, too.

Play of the Week

SANTA ANITA, Thursday, Race 7 – Ferguson (No. 2).

Big 4-year-old from the Marty Jones barn didn’t care for the wet going March 23. He runs well fresh, gets back on dry land, and could fall into a nice stalking trip.