2018 Belmont Stakes Cheat Sheet
By J.J. Hysell, Hello Race Fan's Contributor
2018 Belmont Stakes Replay
So you want to watch the 2018 Belmont Stakes on Saturday but you have no idea who’s running against Justify. Not to worry! Here’s a thumbnail of the field in order of post position with morning line odds.
1. Justify (4-5) – Winner – It’s all systems go, as the heralded Triple Crown contender has trained superbly since his demanding Preakness win. Enveloped in fog and tested with yet another sloppy track, Justify did exactly what he needed – tracking pacesetter Good Magic and holding off late-charging Bravazo and Tenfold – to keep his undefeated status. They were getting to him late; jockey Mike Smith said the colt was weary but not weakened. “Although he got tired, he was also looking around a bit at the end,” Smith said. The Bob Baffert trainee proved he came out of the race in fine shape with a sizzling work in which he seemed to glide effortlessly over the Churchill Downs track. Baffert entered Restoring Hope, 12th in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile in his last start, who could provide a target for Justify to keep him relaxed and in a perfect spot for the 1 1/2-miles test. The endurance challenge is the question for Justify, certainly not because of pedigree, but more due to the threat of fresh horses coming off a period of rest.
2. Free Drop Billy (30-1) – The son of 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags wasn’t a factor in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 16th. Although the Dale Romans-trained chestnut doesn’t have the most consistent record, the bloodlines are there. He’s a half-brother of Hawkbill, winner of the 2018 Dubai Sheema Classic and the Dubai City of Gold at about 1 1/2-miles on turf. The key factor will be where he’s placed by jockey Robby Albarado; a stalking spot not too far off the pace could put him in contention to hit the board at a nice price.
3. Bravazo (8-1) – What a sharp performance in the not-so-ideal conditions of the Preakness for the D. Wayne Lukas runner. The colt, 6th in the Derby at 66-1 odds, held his own by running with Good Magic and Justify throughout and finishing with an impressive late rush for 2nd under jockey Luis Saez at 15-1. He won’t be overlooked this time if he makes a good pre-race impression. He’s been quite energetic during training at Churchill Downs, showing off for the fans and kicking up his heels. “He’s had a good week,” Lukas said last week “Good energy, bucking and jumping during his gallops, which is kind of unusual.” Look for Bravazo to be in the mix early and involved at the end.
4. Hofburg (9-2) – Show (3rd) – Earning the status of “wise guy pick” for the Kentucky Derby, the Bill Mott runner finished a good 7th after traffic trouble in that race. It was a solid effort, considering that the colt came into the race off just three starts. The talent and pedigree are there for this son of Tapit, sire of three of the last four Belmont Stakes winners (Tonalist, Creator, Tapwrit). Belmont bloodlines run aplenty as his damsire is Touch Gold, winner of the 1997 Belmont Stakes that denied Bob Baffert’s Silver Charm a Triple Crown. Will history repeat? Hofburg is a top candidate to play spoiler and a definite contender for the win.
5. Restoring Hope (30-1) – The “other” Baffert drew attention with his speedy pre-Belmont work at Churchill Downs on June 4 (6 furlongs 1:13). Far off the pace and never in the mix in his 12th-place finish in the Pat Day Mile, he’ll likely be in a totally different spot Saturday under jockey Florent Geroux. He could serve as a target for Justify to keep the undefeated colt steady and in a rhythm in a perfect stalking position around the oval. But Baffert says he thinks the colt could play a formidable role in the race as well. “He’s like a one-paced horse,” Baffert said. “Belmont is my first choice (over the Easy Goer), because I think he can hit the board. I’ve always been high on him.”
6. Gronkowski (12-1) – Place (2nd) – Pulled from Kentucky Derby contention because of an infection, the colt was moved from England and trainer Jeremy Noseda to the U.S. and trainer Chad Brown to prep for his stateside debut in the Belmont. Although it’s a tall task making his first start on dirt against the top 3-year-olds in the country, the classy colt is not one to be easily dismissed. After going 0 for 2 on turf, he reeled off four straight wins on synthetic, all at a mile. In Brown’s estimation, the stretch-out shouldn’t be an issue for his new charge. “Based on his two workouts, he’s made to go a mile and a half on the dirt to me,” Brown said. An added advantage is the addition of jockey José Ortiz, who knows his way around Big Sandy; he won the Belmont Stakes with Tapwrit last year. Don’t count this one out as a possible spoiler.
7. Tenfold (12-1) – The lightly-raced Steve Asmussen trainee was dismissed at 26-1 odds in the Grade 1 Preakness, yet he was the one flying late for 3rd, just three-quarters of a length off Justify at the finish. One of two sons of Curlin in the race (Vino Rosso), he should be untroubled by the added distance. With just four races to his credit, he doesn’t boast the experience of most of these rivals, and he’s still seeking his first stakes win. But can you be comfortable leaving him out of your superfecta after that Preakness performance?
8. Vino Rosso (8-1) – The Grade 2 Wood Memorial winner was 9th in his first effort over a sloppy track from post position 18 in the Kentucky Derby. As with his stablemate, Noble Indy, a fast track and a better slot in the gate puts this son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin right in the mix. The long-striding chestnut should relish the distance as well as the surface, as he posted a sharp bullet work at Belmont (4 furlongs, 47 seconds) on May 25. In his first two wins, Vino Rosso was put in a perfect stalking spot right off the pacesetter by veteran jockey John Velazquez. If Velazquez can secure him right off Justify and let him cruise, it’s spoiler time. Win candidate.
9. Noble Indy (30-1) – One of two entries for trainer Todd Pletcher (Vino Rosso), he’s coming off a 17th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby in which he dropped back early from post position 19 and never contended. With a better draw here in a cozier field, the colt should get a much better trip under jockey Javier Castellano. A fast track would also boost his chances and put him into the mix for exotics.
10. Blended Citizen (30-1) – There was a time when trainer Doug O’Neill’s team was convinced this colt was destined for a career on turf, not dirt, after poor performances in his first three tries over the surface. “This is a late-developing horse,” assistant trainer Leandro Mora said. “He was just a slow learner. We tried him on dirt. We thought he was just no good on dirt.” After breakthrough wins on turf and synthetic, he returned to dirt with renewed energy and fared quite well, finishing 5th in the Grade 2 Blue Grass and winning the Grade 3 Peter Pan over the Belmont surface. The half-brother of 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee has shown an affinity for long distances, so the Belmont suits him in that regard, but his running style could put him at a disadvantage. The late closer who likes to rally from far off the pace could have quite a challenge trying to reach speedy Justify.