Horses are not supposed to do what Justify has accomplished so far in his short career.
Horses don’t win the Kentucky Derby without starting out their careers as a 2-year-old. Horses can’t win the Kentucky Derby with just three career starts under their belts. Horses are at a distinct disadvantage when shipping to a new venue for the first time. Horses should regress on the quick turnaround between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, especially if they come out of the Derby with a minor injury such as the bruised left rear heel incurred by Justify. You get the idea.
Instead, we have an undefeated strapping son of Scat Daddy who will be making his sixth start in less than four months this Saturday going for the Triple Crown. Who will beat him?
I don’t think anybody will.
The horsemen had their best chance at an upset in the Preakness, as Justify was trained very lightly by Bob Baffert allowing for a quick recovery from the bruised heel.
Two-year-old champion Good Magic took the fight to Justify from the opening bell over a track that had been deluged by rain all week long. Justify had to fight off Good Magic around the far turn, again at the top of the stretch, and again in mid-stretch before the Chad Brown trainee finally cracked.
He then had to hold off the closers, which he did by a deceptive half-length.
Bob Baffert has been able to get two works into Justify after the Preakness (assuming the work planned on Monday went well), and Baffert won’t put Justify on the plane from Louisville to New York Wednesday morning unless Justify is ready to give a top performance.
A softer early pace seems likely in the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes, and a horse the size of Justify should love the sweeping turns. He has now proven he can win a dogfight, and based on his training videos since the Preakness, Justify has held his weight very well and appears to be coming into the Belmont Stakes better than he did the Preakness. Who knows? He may be even better on dry land, too.
I think there is a good chance when all is said and done that Justify may prove he is even better than the 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who also happened to be trained by Bob Baffert.
Should Justify’s busy race schedule, the anticipated large (10-12 horses expected) Belmont field, or the 12 furlong trip prove to be Justify’s kryptonite, who is poised to take advantage?
A close look should be given to Hofburg, another very lightly-raced colt from the Bill Mott stable. Hofburg has only one lifetime win, but had plenty of road trouble (like many closers do) in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field when he finished seventh, beaten just under nine lengths.
Five weeks between races makes him a fresher horse than Justify, and Hofburg acts like he will run all day. The Mott stable is not known for taking fliers, so if they feel Hofburg belongs in the Belmont then it is best to take notice. Also noteworthy is the workout by Hofburg last Sunday when besting stablemate and older Graded Stakes winner Good Samaritan in a team drill over the Saratoga training track.
Vino Rosso is the other Belmont contender who should move forward exiting the Kentucky Derby. New York based trainer Todd Pletcher has an excellent record in the Belmont Stakes, especially with horses given the five weeks between the Derby and Belmont.
Vino Rosso appears to have the one-paced grinding style that fits the distance of the Belmont Stakes, so look for him to be stalking Justify throughout and try to run by that one in the stretch.
This year’s 3-year-old crop has looked strong from the outset, and there is no reason to believe otherwise after the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
It just may be Justify breathes different air than the others.
SA jockey injuries
Happy and relieved to report that jockey Tiago Pereira should resume riding on Thursday after a scary and spectacular fall last Saturday. Pereira was aboard Waya Ed in the Snow Chief Stakes when the Cal-bred clipped the heels of a horse in front of him, catapulting Pereira head over heels some 10 feet in the air before landing hard on the turf.
Pereira was taken off the track on a stretcher, but he was released about 90 minutes later while still wearing his jockey silks and pants.
Jockey Gary Stevens took off the remainder of his mounts on Sunday after 2-year-old first-time starter Mobou tossed him in the post parade. Stevens got back aboard and rode Mobou to a third place finish, but reported after the race he had the wind knocked out of him and was excused for the rest of the day.
Jockey Tyler Baze will return to the saddle this Thursday after missing the last couple of weeks due to body soreness from a nasty fall, while Evin Roman is due back on June 14 after suffering a fractured toe in a training accident over a month ago.
As horseplayers we tend to criticize the jockeys for bad rides, poor judgement, and other mistakes, but nobody needs to question their heart.
These guys are tough.
Play of the Week
Santa Anita, Friday, Race 6 – Texas Wedge (6 post). Comebacker from the Peter Miller stable is unbeaten in sprints and showed he can handle turf last summer. The 3-year-old faces older runners but should get a nice pace-pressing trip and has more upside than the rest of the field.