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Racing to the Triple Crown

By RANDY BRUNGARD

For The Express

A ten horse field is set to run, with “Justify” breaking from the dreaded post No. 1.

A game of cat-and-mouse could add to the fun, if each horse takes a shot at Justify down the back stretch run.

NBCSN will provide television coverage from Belmont Park from 2-4 p.m. and then NBC will take over between 4-7 p.m. Post time is scheduled for 6:37 p.m.

Nine horses will attempt to prevent Justify from becoming the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown. Even Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, has entered a second horse, “Restoring Hope.”

Since Restoring Hope is owned by Gary and Mary West, and Justify is owned by a different group of people, Baffert faces the possibility of a horse from his own stable knocking off his chance of training a second Triple Crown winner.

Adding to the Baffert barn intrigue, Justify’s jockey, Mike Smith, will be wearing different colored silks. Since Justify is partially owned by several different groups, they have an agreement that provides that every fourth race that Justify runs, his jockey wears the silks of the China Horse Club, who has a 1/4 ownership interest.

Trainer Todd Pletcher also has two entries from his barn: “Vino Rosso” and the aforementioned “Noble Indy”. Both of these horses are partially owned by Mike Repole, a New Yorker who would love to win in his own back yard. Adding to the ownership confusion is the fact that Winstar Farm owns a piece of Noble Indy and percent of Justify.

As I have often said, “pace makes the race.” In the 1 1/2 mile Belmont, if Justify is forced to run fast early in order to avoid getting trapped along the rail, it will be difficult for him to have enough oats left in the tank to win.

Given his rail position, as well as his penchant for racing at or near the lead, expect Justify to be near the front early to try to avoid being trapped inside. With Noble Indy breaking from post No. 9, he will likely try to go toward the front in order to avoid being caught wide going around the sweeping first turn at Belmont Park.

Another question is whether all of the other jockeys will try to apply continuous pressure on Justify throughout the race, potentially using up their own mounts in the process. This tactic was used in 2004 when Pennsylvania’s own “Smarty Jones” attempted to win the Triple Crown.

Although Smarty repelled those challenges, he was caught in the shadow of the wire by a “come from behind” horse, Birdstone. The next closest competitor was 8 lengths behind, but Smarty’s undefeated record and Triple Crown bid was foiled as he finished 2nd.

“Free Drop Billy,”with only two wins in nine career starts, breaks from post No. 2. Although he won a G1 as a 2-year old, and has placed 2nd or 3rd in four other graded-stakes races, he was last seen finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby.

“Bravazo,” who is the only other Belmont entry to have run in both the Derby and the Preakness, will exit gate No. 3. He finished a fast closing 2nd in the Preakness after a 6th place finish in the 20-horse Derby field.

“Hofburg” has only one win from just four lifetime starts, including a disappointing 7th in the Derby after running a strong 2nd one race earlier in the G1 Florida Derby. His connections believe that Hofburg is bred to go the 1 1/2 mile distance, as his Sire, Tapit, has sired three of the last four Belmont winners, and his Dam was sired by a previous Belmont winner, Touch Gold.

Hofburg is the second early betting choice at 9-2, whereas Justify is “odds on” at 4-5. He will break from post No. 4.

“Restoring Hope” exits post No. 5, and is currently 30-1. He has raced five times, with only one win. However, he did finish 3rd in the Wood Memorial at Belmont before finishing an inexplicable 12th in his last race on the same Belmont surface.

European invader “Gronkowski,”who suffered a minor setback and therefore did not run in the Kentucky Derby, exits post No. 6. He is named after New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, and has won his last four races and also has a 2nd in six lifetime starts. He has not raced since March 30, and will be taking a big step up the class ladder when he leaves gate No. 6.

“Tenfold,” last seen closing for 3rd in the Preakness, has two wins in only fourstarts, and exits gate No. 7.

“Vino Rosso” leaves post No. 8, and won the Wood at Belmont before finishing 9th in Kentucky. He has won 3-out-of-6 with one 3rd, and his early odds are 8-1.

Noble Indy is 30-1 from post No. 9, despite his three wins in five starts. He came in next to last in Kentucky, finishing 19th.

The outside post No. 10 horse is “Blended Citizen,” who I stated was the buzz horse in last week’s article. His buzz has apparently quieted some, as his morning line odds are 15-1.

“And down the stretch they come!”

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