For the second time in the last four years, legendary trainer Bob Baffert heads to the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown in his sights.
This year’s contender is Justify, an instant star who has won all five of his races after skipping his second-year season altogether.
After breaking “Apollo’s Curse” with a 2.5-length win at this year’s Kentucky Derby – becoming the first horse since 1882 to win the Run for the Roses without racing as a two-year old – Justify and jockey Mike Smith headed to the Preakness Stakes riding high. There, the pair struck out to an early lead at Pimlico before holding off a hard-charging Bravazo to take the second leg of the Triple Crown by a half-length.
Both victories saw Justify sail through the slop in rainy conditions, but while initial forecasts called for wet weather in Elmont, New York ahead of Saturday’s big race, the latest predictions call for just a 15 percent chance of precipitation.
The possibility of a dry track hasn’t hampered Baffert’s confidence, as the trainer looks to secure his second Triple Crown after breaking a 37-year drought with American Pharoah in 2015. As he told CBS Sports in an interview while prepping his steed for the race of a lifetime, Baffert knows Justify is special despite how he fares this Saturday:
“He’s definitely shown that he’s a great horse, and any horse that’s done what he has done in such a short period of time is pretty remarkable.
We just need everything to keep going smooth … no surprises. I want to make sure that when I throw Mike Smith on his back, that he has a full tank of gas, that his horse is ready.”
Justify will be the clear favorite among the 10-horse field, with online sportsbook Bovada tabbing him at better than even money (-110) to finish off the Triple Crown.
But Baffert has been here several times before and fallen short, as Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and War Emblem (2002) all took the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before falling short at Belmont. Adding to Baffert’s nervousness, Justify drew Post #1 for the pivotal race, after starting from Post #7 in the first two legs of his Triple Crown journey.
According to world-class horse racing handicapper “Hammerin’” Hank Goldberg of CBS Sportsline, it won’t be the post position that slows Justify, but fatigue after winning five races in the last four months:
“The problem I have with Justify is he’s coming out of an extremely tiring race; the Preakness really took a lot out of him. Plus, he’s run five races in a very short period of time.”
Post #1 has sent more winners (23) across the finish line than any other in Belmont Stakes history, but no champions have started on the rail since 2003.
Next on the list of most productive starting spots is Post #3, which is fitting given Bravazo (+750) will begin there. Bravazo nearly chased down Justify to win the Preakness, and he’ll have an extra quarter-mile to work with at Belmont.
The closest rival to Justify based on the Bovada odds is Hofburg (+450), who finished in 7th place at the Kentucky Derby before skipping the Preakness.
Goldberg likes the look of Hofburg too – a strong recommendation given “Hammerin’ Hank’s” history of nailing Triple Crown upsets – as he told CBS Sportsline:
“He reminds me of Birdstone, the 2004 Belmont Stakes winner, and has the same exact pattern. He is trained by Bill Mott, who is based in New York and a great trainer. He’ll have this horse ready.”
Check below for a full listing of the 10 horses running in the 2018 Belmont Stakes:
2018 Belmont Stakes Winner Odds on Bovada
|Post Position||Horse (Jockey)||Belmont Stakes Win Odds on 6/8|
|1||Justify (Mike Smith)||-110 (10 to 11)|
|2||Free Drop Billy (Robby Albarado)||+3000 (30 to 1)|
|3||Bravazo (Luis Saez)||+750 (15 to 2)|
|4||Hofburg (Irad Ortiz Jr.)||+450 (9 to 2)|
|5||Restoring Hope (Florent Geroux)||+3300 (33 to 1)|
|6||Gronkowski (Jose Ortiz)||+2500 (25 to 1)|
|7||Tenfold (Victor Espinoza)||+1000 (10 to 1)|
|8||Vino Rosso (John Velasquez)||+900 (9 to 1)|
|9||Noble Indy (Javier Castellano)||+2800 (28 to 1)|
|10||Blended Citizen (Kyle Frey)||+1800 (18 to 1)|