Justify looks to seal the deal vs. 9 foes in Belmont Stakes

Updated June 7, 2018 - 5:16 pm

I’m not supposed to share this, but there’s an old journalistic trick where, when an athlete is about to accomplish an amazing feat, you go back in time and recount what was going on in the world when the quest began.

It’s effective enough that it’s become a cliche. For instance, when I tell you that jockey Mike Smith rode his first race May 7, 1982, less than a week after Gato del Sol won the Kentucky Derby and in the second year of Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, you can’t help but marvel at his longevity and subsequent successes.

But it just doesn’t work when an athlete’s entire career has spanned just 112 days.

That’s a roundabout way of saying that we’re going to witness a different kind of history on Saturday when Justify steps into the Belmont Stakes starting gate and attempts to become racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner. This is no story of devotion and perseverance but one of an exceptional talent bursting into the room like an uninvited dinner guest.

The Bob Baffert-trained son of Scat Daddy already had rewritten racing’s history books by breaking the so-called “Curse of Apollo,” becoming the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old. Then he came back in the Preakness and showed that he also possesses Spartan toughness, facing down an early challenge from a talented foe and holding off the reinforcements who came to finish him off.

Now he faces what might be his toughest challenge, competing against nine rested or improving rivals at 1½ miles — the longest distance of the Triple Crown races and farther than his bloodlines suggest he should be able to navigate.

He does have a few things going for him beyond what seem to be his almost supernatural abilities: He is the fastest horse in the field and should be able to conserve energy with no serious challenge in the early stages. And his workouts since the Preakness gave no indication that he is feeling the effects from five races in such a brief time.

But Big Sandy, as the sweeping Belmont Park oval is known, has felled other Goliaths in the 150 year history of the race that is rightly known as the “test of the champion.” If Justify is to wear the blanket of white carnations traditionally draped over the Belmont Stakes winner, he’s going to have to dig into his well of greatness one more time.

Can he do it? Let’s see what the #RJhorseracing handicappers think.

#RJhorseracing featured races

Along with the Belmont Stakes, the #RJhorseracing crowd handicapping corps is tackling the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, better known as the Met Mile, on the exceptional undercard.

In the Met Mile, the crowd ’cappers were locked in a dead heat between Bolt d’Oro, 4-1 in the morning line, and Bee Jersey (5-1), with One Liner (12-1) holding down the third spot. They see 5-2 morning line favorite Mind Your Biscuits finishing off the board.

I’ll take a shot that solid 4-year-old McCraken (12-1) will finally land the Grade 1 victory that has eluded him.

In the Belmont Stakes, the corps is backing Justify to complete his Triple Crown sweep, though many said they won’t back the favorite at the betting window.

“Justify is a once in a lifetime horse,” wrote Patrick Morrison. “Not confident enough to bet, however, and no money there at those odds anyway.”

I agree that this is Justify’s race to lose, but I think those last few furlongs could get interesting. I’m going to back the horse I picked in the Kentucky Derby, Vino Rosso (8-1), to gun down the favorite in the deep stretch and box him with Justify and Hofburg in a $1 trifecta box.

Join us next week as we seek out tough handicapping puzzles around the U.S. by emailing me or following me on Twitter.

Contact Mike Brunker at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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