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Belmont Park will play host to a Triple Crown hopeful when Justify attempts to add the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes to his victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. It will mark the first Triple Crown attempt since American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza rode into racing immortality in 2015.
The post-position draw event for the 2018 Belmont Stakes will be held at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens on the evening of June 5.
Let's take a look at the PROBABLE entrants who are most likely to challenge Justify and keep him from stealing the Triple Crown title. Confirmed field, Odds & Post Positions will be updated after draw.
CONFIRMED - Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Justify survived a protracted duel with Good Magic and held on to capture the 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) with a half-length victory over late-charging Bravazo Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
Justify put trainer Bob Baffert into the Preakness record books. In addition to staying alive in a quest to sweep the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes (G1) June 9, Justify propelled his Hall of Fame trainer into a tie for most Preakness victories with 19th century trainer Robert Wyndham Walden, who saddled seven Preakness winners between 1875 and 1888. Baffert also equaled the record of 14 victories in the Triple Crown series held by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who came within a half-length of winning his 15th when Bravazo's late drive fell short.
Justify was Baffert's fifth career Kentucky Derby winner and became his fifth Derby winner to also capture the Preakness. Justify followed in the hoof prints of Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002) and 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. Baffert's two other Preakness victories came in 2001 with Point Given, who was fifth in the Derby, and 2010 with Lookin At Lucky, who finished sixth in the Derby.
Justify, who was sent to post as the 2-5 favorite in a field of eight 3-year-olds, was prevented from setting an uncontested pace as he did in the Derby when Good Magic broke alertly and took the early lead in front of the grandstand. Justify raced alongside Good Magic around the first turn and along the backstretch past fractions of 23.11 seconds, 47.19 seconds and 1:11.42 for the first six furlongs of the 1 3/16-mile classic. The head-to-head battle continued on the far turn and into the stretch, before Justify and jockey Mike Smith emerged from the fog to establish a clear lead in deep stretch. Bravazo, who stalked the pacesetters under jockey Luis Saez, made a late rush at the Derby winner, only to fall a half-length short.
Justify ran 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.93 on a sloppy, sealed racetrack while running his career record to 5-for-5.
"He's just a great horse to handle all that pressure and keep on running. He had to really work for it and I'm happy for the horse and Mike and all the connections that we pulled it out," said Baffert, who has the chance to saddle his second Triple Crown winner only three years after claiming Thoroughbred racing's biggest price with American Pharoah, who was the first since Affirmed (1978) to pull off the sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
"We knew he wasn't going to coast to the wire," said Baffert, before Justify departed from Pimlico Race Course Sunday morning. "It was close, but for him, what he's done; it's his fifth race, it's pretty incredible still. I don't see why we won't go to the Belmont. As long as he stays like this; he looks good. He looks pretty bright. He ate everything."
Baffert made three Triple Crown attempts finally achieving racing's most elusive feat with American Pharoah. Silver Charm won the first two legs in 1997, as did Real Quiet in 1998, and War Emblem in 2002, before falling short in the third jewel .
"I think it's a little bit different," Baffert continued. "Before, we'd go there thinking it's going to be so difficult and something always goes wrong. I just feel, with this horse, he's so talented, something can go wrong and he'd still win. He's a superior horse. Yesterday, they tried something different and he handled it. He's not one-dimensional."
Justify, a strapping chestnut colt by Scat Daddy, is undefeated in five career starts, including three Grade 1s where he was ridden to victory by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, a two-time Belmont winner with Drosselmeyer (2010) and Palace Malice (2013).
"We'll just get him back and usually go easy on him for the first week," said Baffert, who could join the legendary James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons (Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935) as the only two trainers to campaign multiple Triple Crown winners. "Depending on how he responds, we'll start doing something with him. It's day by day with how we do things."
Justify could face a full field in the Belmont, the centerpiece of the expanded three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival featuring 18 stakes races with $9.4 million in purses. Among them are Bravazo, who was second in the Preakness, and a handful of horses from the Derby who skipped the Preakness including Hofburg (7th), Vino Rosso (9th), and Free Drop Billy (16th). Also awaiting Justify are Grade 3 Peter Pan winner Blended Citizen and Gronkowski, a multiple stakes winner in Europe named for, and co-owned by, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
PROBABLE - Off of a sweeping move into the stretch amid the raindrops at Belmont Park, Say Jay Racing's Blended Citizen closed with a flourish on the outside to win the Grade 3, $350,000 Peter Pan by 1 ½ lengths, stopping the clock at 1:49.75 for the 1 1/8 miles over the fast main track.
Scratched as an also-eligible in last Saturday's Kentucky Derby, the son of Proud Citizen was instead given a strong six-furlong breeze in 1:16 at Churchill Downs to keep the Kentucky-bred sharp. The plan worked out for trainer Doug O'Neill and his team as they shipped in to Belmont Park on Wednesday with this race, and an even longer and prestigious one in mind that will be contested four weeks from the Peter Pan.
"We led him over here with a lot of confidence," said Jack Sisterson, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill. "He's such a big horse with such a big stride. We thought if he's going to love any track in America, it's going to be Belmont Park, so we weren't surprised with the result today. After the Bluegrass, the plan was the Peter Pan and then the [Grade 1, $1.5 million] Belmont."
With his next start pending in June 9 Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, Blended Citizen could become the eighth horse to sweep the Peter Pan and Belmont Stakes double.
PROBABLE - Happy with Tenfold's third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said the colt owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds is a candidate for the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
"We are definitely considering it. I did decide to move him back to Churchill," Asmussen said as the colt was prepped for a van ride to Louisville, Ky. "I want to feel as good going into the Belmont as we were coming into here, that you would fire your best shot."
Asmussen said he expected to take his time and will make his decision on the Belmont about a week before the race.
Tenfold, making his first start since finishing fifth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 14, was the longest shot in the field at 26-1. He made a strong run in the fog-obscured second turn and was in position to challenge the leaders, Justify and Good Magic, in the stretch when the horses came back into view. Justify held off Bravazo by a half-length and Tenfold was a neck back.
"I was, obviously, pleased with his effort," Asmussen said. "With the way the race unfolded in the fog, it was extremely difficult to truly assess everything that happened because we saw so little."
Tenfold was a late-developing horse and did not run at 2. He won twice at Oaklawn Park and he had a promising performance in the Arkansas Derby that wasn't good enough to get him to the Kentucky Derby. Asmussen said he was concerned about the way the Preakness was unfolding in the first run through the stretch.
"I thought he would be a little closer," Asmussen said. "He worked himself into a great position down the backside when they went into the turn and out of view. Then what did we see, the last between eighth and sixteenth of the mile of the race? He was beaten three-quarters in the Preakness. The horse has a tremendous frame and physical (build) and is a great mover. I think there are very good things ahead for him."
PROBABLE - After winning the first two starts of his career in 2017, both by open lengths, Vino Rosso finished third in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes in his stakes and season debut on Feb. 10, 2018, and followed with a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.
Sent to Aqueduct for one final try at qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, Vino Rosso put it together, rallying from off of the pace to outfinish Engage and win the Grade 1 Wood Memorial by three lengths. He earned 100 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, securing a spot in the May 5 classic.
He'll be one to watch next time out because he had zero chance of winning the Kentucky Derby after a very wide trip all the way around the track. That kept him from making much of a rally; he was gassed down the stretch. Still, he fought on hard to at least hold a decent position and should bounce back in the Belmont Stakes, where he'll be dangerous.
After a ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, 10 1/2 lengths behind Justify, Vino Rosso brings a common angle into the Belmont Stakes. Horses who have run off the board in the Kentucky Derby tend to skip the Preakness and instead run back fresh in the Belmont Stakes. Vino Rosso is out of a Street Cry mare. He has sired some of the best horses of all time, including Winx and Zenyatta.
PROBABLE - Audible joined the top ranks of contenders for the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with an emphatic 5 ½-length win in the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 3. The Into Mischief colt, owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, and SF Racing, had won two of three starts but had not tried stakes company until racing in the Holy Bull.
He shipped to Florida from New York for trainer Todd Pletcher and won the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull easily after rebuffing a challenge from Grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy at the top of the stretch, earning 10 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.
Given some extra time off after a powerhouse performance in the Holy Bull, Audible returned in the Grade 1 Xpressbet Florida Derby on March 31 and closed powerfull from off a lightning fast pace to win easily and punch his ticket to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve riding a four-race winning streak.
This horse proved to be a warrior after dropping to mid-pack early in the Kentucky Derby, and getting up for third, losing out on second by a head-bob. Jockey Javier Castellano saved a ton of ground, hugging the rail for most of the race. This has been a hard horse to figure out all year long, but he looks to be all heart. He will likely head to the Belmont Stakes for his next start.
PROBABLE - Hall of Fame trainer D Wayne Lukas said that he expects to take Preakness runner-up Bravazo to New York to the complete the Triple Crown cycle in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
As Lukas predicted in the days leading up to the Preakness, Bravazo improved from his sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby with a strong performance in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. He closed to finish second by a half-length to Justify and was a neck in front of Tenfold.
"I was very, very pleased with the way he woke up this morning," Lukas said. "He was very sharp and we made a few turns around the shedrow. He was very sharp. That part was excellent.
"I just loved the way he ran. We'd like to have won it, but I think we needed another 15 yards and maybe we could have gotten it done," he added. "After studying the video we were running the fastest of any of them at the end."
Lukas said he had spoken with Calumet Farm owner Brad Kelley about going on to the Belmont for another rematch with Justify.
"Mr. Kelley wants to and I'd like to take him," Lukas said. "He's a tough little horse and I think his pedigree will let him run that far. So we'll take him on and see what happens."
Lukas said that Sporting Chance will get a break and then be prepared for some racing at Saratoga.
Though Bravazo was the 15-1 fifth choice in the wagering in the field of eight, Lukas was not surprised that he turned in a big performance. From the moment he arrived at Pimlico, Lukas said that the Derby winner Justify, trained by his pal Bob Baffert, stood over the field.
"I really thought he would run big," Lukas said. "Bob and I talked and I thought Bob's horse was definitely going to be a tough horse to beat. But I felt that we would really keep him honest. All week I thought we had a horse that would respond back in two weeks, which he did. I just felt that we would make it really interesting, and we did."
Lukas chuckled at the suggestion that he was satisfied with Bravazo's run in the Preakness.
"If you can be satisfied with second, I am," he said. "I'm so competitive that second is not good enough in my mindset, but having said that, if you can handle second, it was a damn good one."
PROBABLE - Enticed won his debut impressively in September 2017 at Saratoga before finishing third in his second start in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. He followed with a hard-fought victory in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November at Churchill Downs.
The Godolphin homebred returned to racing at age 3 in the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 3, where he disappointed by running fourth behind Audible, Free Drop Billy, and his runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Tiz Mischief.
Making his second start in 2018, Enticed returned for the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on March 10 at Aqueduct. He proved much the best in an improved performance, rallying to take charge in the stretch and coasting to a 2 3/4-length score that earned him 50 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, guaranteeing his spot in the 20-horse field.
Making his final prep in the Wood Memorial, Enticed stalked pacesetter Old Time Revival, put that one away at the top of the stretch, and then dueled with a rallying Vino Rosso before yielding to that one in the final sixteenth, holding second easily over Restoring Hope. Enticed earned another 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby with the effort.
In the KY Derby he was jostled around in traffic during the first three furlongs and never seemed to settle into a rhythm after that. He was jostled again on the far turn and failed to make a bid after shifting to the far outside, but that's not surprising given the trip he endured. His trouble was subtle but significant.
PROBABLE - Mark Casse-trained Flameaway broke his maiden in his career debut at Woodbine in May 2017, and then came back in his next start to take the black-type Skidmore Stakes on a muddy track at Saratoga in August. John Oxley's Scat Daddy colt then started in the Grade 3 Iroqouis Stakes at Churchill Downs but finished a disappointing sixth and his connections targeted the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes on turf at Keeneland for his next start.
That race was rained off of the turf on Oct. 8, but Flameaway started anyway and made a strong rally to reach contention in deep stretch under Julien Leparoux. He won a three-way photo with Tap Daddy and Tigers Rule to pick up his second stakes win. Initially, the Bourbon Stakes lost its "Win and You're In" status due to the surface change, but after review, the Breeders' Cup granted an automatic berth to the Nov. 3 Juvenile Turf at Del Mar to Flameaway.
After finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf to close his 2-year-old season, Flameaway won the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 6 in his 3-year-old bow. He returned to the main track for his second start of 2018 and held off game runner-up Catholic Boy to win the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. He followed with a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which essentially cemented a spot for Flameaway in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
In his final Kentucky Derby prep, Flameaway took the early lead in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and held onto the advantage into the stretch, where he was passed by champion Good Magic. Flameawy battled bravely to the finish line to take second in the $1 million Blue Grass and confirm his status as a legitimate contender for the run for the roses.
n the 144th Kentucky Derby, many felt that he would be stalking Promises Fulfilled with Justify just behind him, but instead, that was flip-flopped. After breaking just a step slowly, Flameaway found himself off the pace and behind horses, not an ideal position for a speedy colt. Nevertheless, he fought to stay in the mix through the mile marker before tiring in the final quarter-mile. It was unfortunate as Flameaway had won in the slop before and had upset possibility.
PROBABLE - Free Drop Billy overcame a troubled start to win his career debut impressively at Churchill Downs in June 2017. He rallied gamely in his second start in the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga Race Course but came up just short and finished second in his stakes debut. In his next start, Free Drop Billy once again finished second, this time by a neck to Sporting Chance in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. He had to alter course late when the winner drifted out, but no change was made in the order of finish.
In his next start, and his first around two turns, Free Drop Billy put it all together to pick up a Grade 1 win by four lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 7, earning an automatic berth in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Free Drop Billy disappointed in the Juvenile, finishing ninth, but made a good comeback in his first start as a 3-year-old, checking in second behind Audible in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 3.
After initially targeting the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 3, Free Drop Billy was rerouted to the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes a week later and finished third, beaten by 6 3/4 lengths. he finished third again in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, following the disqualification of Sporting Chance, which gave him sufficient points to qualify for the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
In the 2018 Kentucky Derby he broke slow and settled close to the pace for much of the race while saving ground, but ran out of steam on the far turn and steadily retreated to last place before re-passing a few colts that were eased near the finish. The horse likely needs a drop in class, but he may not get it - his trainer, Dale Romans, likes to run in big races.
PROBABLE - Lone Sailor was unplaced in his career debut, but bounced back to win his second race by 11 lengths in September at Saratoga Race Course. He subsequently ran third in the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland before finishing second by a head in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs. After a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Lone Sailor was given a short break.
He returned in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and finished a well-beaten ninth before a confidence-building runner-up finish in an allowance race on Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds set him up for another try in stakes competition.
Lone Sailor ran his heart out in the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby and came up just short when running second to Noble Indy. The 40 points give him 42 toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, which typically is sufficient to lock up a spot in the starting gate for the run for the roses.
Lone Sailor will run in the 2018 Preakness, so we will have to see if he is still ready to go after running. Five straight Preakness editions have seen a horse rally from last in the field to finish second or third, including 31-1 Senior Investment in the show spot a year ago. That's good news for this deep closer who figures to get plenty of pace to run.
PROBABLE - Phoenix Thoroughbreds, Ltd., announced April 25, 2018 that Gronkowski, a prized 3-year colt, would resume training in preparation for its U.S. debut at the Belmont Stakes, scheduled for June 9, 2018 at Belmont Park, N.Y.
The Phoenix race team was forced to bypass the Kentucky Derby after the horse experienced a minor infection, which prevented its travel from Newmarket, England to Kentucky.
"Gronkowski the horse is recovering very well from a small infection, " said Tom Ludt, Vice President of equine operations for Phoenix Thoroughbreds, which owns the towering colt. "He's extremely strong and we are excited about getting him to the U.S. to compete at The Belmont."
Gronkowski the horse was sired by champion Lonhro, Australia's Racehorse of the Year in 2003-'04, and was bred in Kentucky as the first foal from the mare Four Sugars, a daughter of twice champion American racehorse Lookin At Lucky. Phoenix Thoroughbreds, founded by Dubai-based businessman Amer Abdulaziz, purchased Gronkowski in 2017.
PROBABLE - Juddmonte Farm's Kentucky Derby runner Hofburg has settled in well at Bill Mott's training base at Saratoga Race Course, where he will train ahead of a possible start in the 1 ½-mile Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, said the Hall of Famer on Sunday morning.
"He's going to stay and train up there and we'll think about the Belmont," said Mott. "He's doing really good."
The chestnut Tapit colt was a troubled seventh in the 1 ¼-mile Derby, where he was bumped at the break and steadied twice before getting clear in late stretch and finishing up with a strong gallop out.
The "Run for the Roses" was the fourth lifetime start for Hofburg, who stamped his Derby ticket with a game runner-up finish to Audible in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31 at Gulfstream Park.
"He just didn't have a smooth trip [in the Derby]," Mott said. "He had a lot of traffic trouble. He went from being about eight or nine lengths off the lead going into the turn and came out of it about 15 off. He just had to put the brakes on. It was good to see that he certainly wasn't laying down exhausted [after the race]. He seemed to have a lot left."
** He is bred to run all day, being a son of Tapit. Tapit has sired the last two Belmont winners and three out of the last four. **
Use the links below to learn more about the third leg of the `Triple Crown of Horse Racing'
|Race Tracks||Time (EST)|
|Australia A||10:25 PM|
|Australia B||10:33 PM|
|Australia C||10:50 PM|
|Australia D||4:37 AM|
|Ayr Races (UK)||9:14 AM|
|Bangor Raceway||4:59 PM|
|Birmingham Eve||7:15 PM|
|Chepstow (UK)||9:18 AM|
|Daytona Beach Eve||7:25 PM|
|Fairmount Park||2:00 PM|
|Finger Lakes||1:11 PM|
|Harrington Raceway||4:59 PM|
|Hexham (UK)||1:10 PM|
|Huntingdon (UK)||12:51 PM|
|Louisiana Downs||4:14 PM|
|Monticello Raceway||12:59 PM|
|Mountaineer Park||7:00 PM|
|New Zealand||7:30 PM|
|Northfield Park||6:00 PM|
|Nottingham (UK)||8:59 AM|
|Parx Racing||12:59 PM|
|Pocono Downs||7:00 PM|
|Presque Isle||5:24 PM|
|Running Aces||8:00 PM|
|Scioto Downs||2:05 PM|
|Shelbourne Park (IG)||2:38 PM|
|Sligo (IRE)||12:55 PM|
|Tralee (IG)||1:55 PM|
|Vaal (SAF)||6:15 AM|
|Western Fair||6:15 PM|
|Yonkers Raceway||6:50 PM|