Belmont Stakes Preview
The Belmont Stakes is the final leg of the much coveted but seldom won Triple Crown. This year marks the 150th Belmont Stakes and the big question is, can Justify win the Triple Crown?
The Triple Crown itself starts with the Kentucky Derby, where Justify lived up to all the hype with a comfortable two and a half-length victory on just his fourth career start. Amazingly Justify didn’t run as a two-year-old and only first stepped foot on a racetrack in mid-February. This victory in the Kentucky Derby confirmed that Bob Baffert had a special animal in his barn.
Just two weeks later and the son of Scat Daddy was lining up as a hot favourite for the Preakness Stakes, it may not have been plain sailing but the chestnut colt fought hard to get the verdict by half a length.
All eyes will be on Justify and his jockey Mike Smith on Saturday, as he tries to become the 13th horse to complete the Holy Grail “Triple Crown” and if successful at Belmont Park, he will become the first Triple Crown not to have raced as a two-year-old.
Some previous Triple Crown winners include War Admiral (Seabiscuit’s old advisory), Secretariat, Seattle Slew and in more recent times American Pharoah. “Big-Money Mike,” thinks that Justify will add his name to this illustrious list saying that:
“To go for a Triple Crown is incredible, and so tough to pull off, but this is the kind of horse that’s got the required talent. He’s got the ability, there’s no doubting that…He’s by far the best three-year-old I’ve been involved with.”
It seems quite hard to oppose Justify and every racing fan will be cheering him home on Saturday but is there viable contenders to take the crown away?
Todd Pletcher who famously trained Rags To Riches to win the Belmont in 2007, saddles two runners in the form of Vino Rosso and Noble Indy. Even with Justify having to break from the dreaded stall 1 Pletcher said:
“I think, like all of us, we need Justify to wake up on the wrong side of the bed to have a chance,”
In reality, it looks like only two things could stand in the way of Justify entering the record books as the 13th Triple Crown winner…they are fatigue and Hofburg.
The Triple Crown has only been won 12 times for good reason, it’s very demanding for a three year old to run over three different distances at three tracks in a space of five weeks. It would seem on the face of it that Justify has all the attributes needed to win but we won’t truly know until Saturday.
Bill Mott saddles Hofburg in the Belmont Stakes and I believe that the son of Tapit is the biggest danger to Justify. Hofburg has only won two races from five starts but he seems to be crying out for the step up in distance.
Following a creditable second behind Audible in the Florida Derby, he went to Churchill Downs with leading claims, however, the Juddmonte owned colt had a rough trip to finish a never nearer seventh behind Justify. Hofburg comes into the race as a fresh horse having skipped the Preakness and I think he will be victorious come Saturday.
RaceBets have a fantastic offer in the Belmont Stakes if your selection finishes second behind Justify then you’ll get your money back as a free bet.
On the domestic front, this weekend gives us a chance to grab our breath following consecutive weeks of top-class action. Haydock plays host to a brace of Group Threes on Saturday, while Musselburgh features the Scottish Sprint Cup handicap where Line of reason bids to win back to back renewals.
Scottish Sprint Cup
Musselburgh racecourse has been hosting races since 1816 and the Scottish Sprint Cup is one of the courses flagship races. It’s run over the minimum trip of five furlongs and attracts some top speedsters with the last two renewals going the way of Hoofalong and Line of Reason.
Some of the leading contenders for this year include:
Approve ex Drumcliffe Dancer
Trainer: J J Quinn
Owner: Mr Ross Harmon Racing
John Quinn’s El Astronaute has been an absolute revelation this season with 4 placed efforts in as many runs and going up six pounds in the process. A head defeat at the hands of Mr Lupton at York was a career-best when last seen.
The only concern would be that this run was only two weeks ago, and this run will be his fifth within six weeks. If showing no ill effects for these excursions El Astronaute is the one to beat.
Move in Time
Monsieur Bond ex Tibesti
Trainer: P Midgley
Owner: A Turton, J Blackburn & R Bond
Paul Midgley’s veteran had been steadily slipping down the handicap until capitalising most recently at Newmarket off a mark of 83. In his pomp Move In Time held a rating of 113 following a third-place finish in the Group Two King George Stakes at Goodwood.
This first win since 2015 resulted in a seven-pound rise for the son of Monsieur Bond and with this confidence boosting run behind him Move In Time has very strong claims of getting back to back wins.
The only slight reservation is that he finished last in the races in 2017 behind stablemate Line of Reason.
Line of Reason
Kheleyf ex Miss Party Line
Trainer: P Midgley
Owner: Taylor’s Bloodstock Ltd
Line Of Reason bids to retain the race off a mark seven pounds lower than last season. The much-raced eight-year-old is being reunited with Joe Fanning and having finished less than four lengths behind race favourite El Astronaute on his previous start, Paul Midgely’s stable star looks the one.
Others to note include Dark Shot, Soie D’leau and Orion’s Bow.
Selection: Line Of Reason Outsider: Orions Bow
This 1 Mile 4 Furlong Group Three contest is fascinating with six of the seven horses being four-year-olds. The only exception to this is the improving German raider Fosun from the Markus Klug yard and SDS in the saddle. The Soldier Hollow mare most recently won a listed race at Hannover and will pose punters problems.
God Given looks to provide Luca Cumani with a welcome winner and it would be no surprise if this lightly raced yet highly tried filly obliged in the hands of Jamie Spencer. A midfield finish in the Group One Prix Vermeille at Chantilly last year is the standout piece of form in the field.
If the daughter of Nathaniel can handle the much quicker underfoot conditions then she will prove very tough to beat.
The most progressive filly in the race is Roger Charlton’s Cribbs Causeway who went from a mark of 62 to 95 last season, winning five times in the process. A third-place finish in a Group Three at York on seasonal debut suggests that the progression may not have stopped and she will give God Given plenty to think about.
Selection: God Given Outsider: Fosun
The other Group Three contest at Haydock on Saturday is the John Of Gaunt Stakes run over seven furlongs. There are some very smart horses lining set to face the starter including triple listed winner Tabarrak, Emmaus who has only been beaten once in four career starts and the consistently smart D’bai.
However, none of the aforementioned horses has the class of Dutch Connection, particularly over seven furlongs. Put simply Dutch Connection has run three times at Group Three level all over seven furlongs and the result?…. Three wins! In fact, over he’s specialist trip Dutch Connection has only been beaten three times including finishing in arrears of Gleneagles and Toormore.
This is very strong from in the context of this race and following a seasonal pipe opener in the Lockinge, Dutch Connection really should be collecting the prize.
Selection: Dutch Connection Outsider: Larchmont Lad
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