Justify Faces Stiff Competition in Quest for Triple Crown

Ticket prices for the Belmont Stakes have exploded to nearly 150 percent of their 2017 price ahead of Justify’s attempt on Saturday to become only the 14th horse to win the Triple Crown. The fact that they are notably higher than in 2015 when American Pharaoh won the Crown likely speaks to American Pharaoh’s victory, the first in nearly 40 years to win after dozens made it past the first two legs before falling short. Furthermore, Justify’s having the same trainer in Bob Baffert as American Pharoah likely fuels much of the expectations of victory.

There are, however, valid reasons to bet against the three-year-old 4-5 odds favorite. As the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg pointed out, being the favorite provides little advantage. American Pharoah is the only favorite to win the Belmont Stakes in the last 16 years. Furthermore, this will be Justify’s sixth race this year, a grueling schedule even for the best of the best. He also drew the inside post, an incredibly difficult position to win in, and one from which the last horse to win the Bellmont Stakes was Touch Gold in 1997.

But after winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in blinding rain and horrendous track conditions, the longer, tougher track in Elmont, New York is unlikely to factor much in hampering Justify’s chances. The real challenge for the new life of the party comes from his competition. The Bellmont Stakes feature the elite among the international elite, who race their horses.

Restoring Hope, Noble Indy, and Free Drop Billy bring up the tail of the odds at 30-1.

Restoring Hope was also trained by Justify trainer Bob Baffert. Although an upset is unlikely, Baffert has no qualms about the underdog’s challenging his potential Triple Crown Winner. “I’ve had situations where you go, ‘Oh no. Who is that?” remarked Baffert on past upsets. “Oh, that’s me.'”

Noble Indy won the Louisiana Derby, but finished a disappointing 17th in Kentucky.

Free Drop Billy came in 16th in the Kentucky Derby; and like Noble Indy, skipped the Preakness.

Blended Citizen stands at 15-1. He missed the Kentucky Derby by one slot, but one the Peter Pan Stakes a week later in Belmont. So, although he is a long shot to win, unlike the other contenders he has already won a race on this track.

Tied for fourth in odds at 12-1 are Tenfold and Gronkowski.

Like Justify, Tenfold did not start racing until he was three. He has been gaining in speed, though, with each race, and finished a close third in the Preakness.

Gronkowski, named for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who also owns a piece of the colt and will be in attendance on Saturday, comes from England. He missed the Kentucky Derby because of an infection. Bellmont will be the first time he has ever raced on dirt.

Vino Rosso, who won the Wood Memorial Stakes to qualify for the Derby, faces 8-1 odds. He finished ninth in Kentucky and skipped the Preakness.

The two most likely to win it other than Justify are Bravazo (8-1) and Hofburg (9-2).

Bravazo finished sixth in the Derby, but came back to nearly best Justify in the Preakness, finishing second by a half-length.

Hofburg enters Bellmont well-rested. He’s one-for-four, with a second place finish in the Florida Derby. He placed ninth in Kentucky and skipped the Preakness.

The Bellmont Stakes are the most difficult to win, especially after having raced in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. This year, Justify faces four who raced in the Derby, three who raced on the Preakness, but stands alone with Bravazo among those who raced in all three.

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