Forty-five years ago on June 9, horse racing had its greatest moment. Secretariat gave a packed Belmont Park and worldwide audience goose bumps as he roared to the Triple Crown with a 31-length victory at the Belmont Stakes.
The Sport of Kings has seen nothing like Big Red since 1973 and it won’t again on Saturday. However, the stakes are the same as undefeated Justify looks to join the select club of thoroughbreds who have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
The 1½ miles “Test of a Champion” has drawn 10 competitors. Post time is 6:46 p.m. EDT. The television coverage will begin on NBCSCN from 2-4 p.m. and then shift to NBC from 4-7 p.m.
Below is a look at the entrants:
1. Justify, Bob Baffert, Mike Smith 4-5
The big horse starts from inside. Trainer Bob Baffert will be making his fifth run at a Triple Crown. He has one, of course, as American Pharoah turned the trifecta in 2015. Since 1905, there have been 23 winners from the rail. Will Justify remain undefeated and make it two dozen?
2. Free Drop Billy, Dale Romans, Robby Albarado, 30-1
Was 45-1 when trounced by 41 lengths in finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Do not expect the shocker of all shocking turnarounds.
3. Bravazo, D. Wayne Lukas, Luis Saez 8-1
Was closing on Justify at the end of the Preakness, finishing second and missing by a half-length. There is a myth – and a large one – that because the Belmont is such a long race it will benefit late runners. False. Bravazo will have to be close to Justify, as a late run from way back won’t be beneficial.
4. Hofburg, Bill Mott, Irad Ortiz Jr. 9-2
Well, there has to be a second choice and buzz horse and this Bill Mott trainee is it. He opened eyes with a strong second to Audible in the Florida Derby, which attracted a lot of attention in the Run for the Roses. However, Hofburg had a rough journey before passing horses to finish seventh.
5. Restoring Hope, Bob Baffert, Florent Giroux 30-1
The “other” Baffert. Could only imagine the shock if this one ended the Triple Crown dream.
6. Gronkowski, Chad Brown, Jose Ortiz, 12-1
Earned his way to a position in the Kentucky Derby starting gate before coming up ill and not making the first leg of the Triple Crown. There will be plenty of hunch bets. Has stellar connections but still has a tremendous amount to prove.
7. Tenfold, Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr., 12-1
Showed potential in taking first two career starts. Skipped the Derby and was making noise in the Preakness, finishing third only three-quarters of a length back. Like Justify, was unraced as a 2-year-old. This will be his fifth career start.
8. Vino Russo, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 8-1
The Wood Memorial winner is back in New York and has top Big Apple connections in Pletcher-Velazquez. Imagine if Pletcher upsets the Justify run at history with someone other than Audible, who is sitting this one out.
9. Noble Indy, Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano 30-1
Finished 17th, beaten by 42 lengths in the Kentucky Derby. How do you say, “highly unlikely?”
10. Blended Citizen, Doug O’Neill, Kyle Frey 30-1
The good news is the Doug O’Neill-trainee comes in off a strong victory in the Peter Pan, historically a nice prep for the Belmont. The bad news is he hasn’t shown the ability to handle this caliber of talent.
Justify has done everything – and more – asked of a 3-year-old. Breaking the curse of Apollo by winning the Derby as an unraced 2-year-old. He’s a marvelous talent. However, have a feeling that this “Test of a Champion” will prove his undoing.
Tenfold missed the Derby and put in a strong effort in taking the show dough in the Preakness. Think he has potential, the ability to stalk and more room to grow than Bravazo, who finished second in Maryland.
Hofburg has a bright future and figures to be on the improve and another threat.
Blended Citizen was sharp in taking the Peter Pan, which won’t hurt here.
Justify is an absolute Ferrari. The question, of course, is how much gas does this fine-tuned machine have left in his tank.