By Bob Ehalt
The timer is at hand.
On Saturday evening, at about 6:45 p.m., well know if Justify has what it takes to become a legendary champion.
He’ll face nine rivals in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes with a mile-and-a-half and Belmont Park’s long stretch standing between him and the glory of becoming the 13th Triple Crown champion.
The early odds are 4-5 that he’ll complete the sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont and it’s easy to, yes, justify that price.
In his five career starts, no one has defeated the fleet son of Scat Daddy, and chances are he will duplicate Seattle Slew’s 1977 feat of sweeping through the Triple Crown with an unbeaten record. His odds will be probably be lower than the morning line by post time, partially due to a lot of $2 souvenir tickets and partially because he’s head and shoulders the best horse in a field of 10.
“He just floated over this track,” trainer Bob Baffert said on Thursday after Justify registered his first gallop around Belmont Park’s mile-and-a-half oval. “He was happy. He was aggressive.
He was just getting over the track really well. He couldn’t have looked any better coming around there. He looks like a horse that is flourishing.”
That certainly is not the news Justify’s rival have been hoping to hear. After he won his first four starts, including the Kentucky Derby, by a combined 21 ½ lengths, Justify notched a half-length victory over Belmont Stakes foes Bravazo and Tenfold in the Preakness. Some have painted that close finish as an indication that the rigors of five races since Feb.18 might be catching up with the undefeated star, but the spark he has shown in his recent works tell a different story.
“Six races is a lot, but we’ve seen that he thrives on it,” Baffert said. “The way he’s built, his muscles, you could see he’s just a big, strong, powerful, horse. He’s just a muscled-up strong athlete. I just want to see him run his race. If he runs his race, he’s just a superior animal. I want him to show up, that’s all. I’m focusing on if he shows up, if he’s good enough, he’ll get it done.”
Aside from becoming the 13th Triple Crown champion and second in three years after American Pharoah broke a 37-year drought, Justify, who will break from the rail, can make Baffert just the second person in the sport’s long history to train two Triple Crown winners.
Hofburg (9-2) looms as the second choice. Unraced since finishing a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby, the Bill Mott-trained colt was second in the Florida Derby.
Bravazo, who was sixth in the Derby before his runner-up finish in the Preakness, and Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso, who was ninth in the Derby, are both 8-1 in the morning line.
Tenfold was pegged at 12-1 along with European import Gronkowski, who figures to be overbet because he’s trained by two-time Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown and has the same name as the immensely popular New England Patriots tight end.
Peter Pan winner Blended Citizen is 15-1, while Free Drop Billy, Noble Indy and Restoring Hope are all 30-1 longshots in the race that will determine Justify’s place in racing lore.
Don’t miss it.
The Belmont Stakes lowdown
Here are the specifics for Saturday’s huge card of racing at Belmont:
The Belmont Stakes will be the 11th race on a 13-race card with a post time of 6:37 p.m. First race post time is 11:35 a.m., with 10 stakes on the program.
Advance wagering on the Belmont will be available on Friday.
Online and mobile Winners account holders can take advantage of a money-back bonus on the Belmont. A customer’s first win bet on the Belmont – up to $10 – will be refunded if that horse finishes second.
Finally, don’t forget to follow the Belmont Stakes Day action on the My Winners Twitter account (@MyWinnersCT) as I’ll be the host for a Twitter Takeover throughout the day, offering selections, results and analysis.
Good luck to everyone.