2018 Belmont Stakes Expert Handicapping: Early Look at Field
It's early, and a lot will change over the next two and a half weeks, but we are starting to get a sense of the hurdles that Justify will have to clear to win a Triple Crown - at least in terms of the field of horses preparing to face him in the Belmont Stakes. It shapes up as a tougher field than the Preakness, but it's also not as one that will be impossible for Justify to beat.
Here are the horses that are at least possible at this point, in alphabetical order, as we take an early look at the Belmont Stakes field (Futures odds, when available, are from Bovada .):
Audible (+500): This one is very interesting and will be one to watch. The Florida Derby winner was a very respectable third in the Kentucky Derby and would probably have caught Good Magic for second with a few more strides. He will have had five weeks off before the Belmont, so he will be fresh and dangerous - the biggest threat to Justify in the race in the eyes of many. But most of the partners who own this Todd Pletcher-trained colt also own Justify. The financial upside of owning a Triple Crown winner when it comes to a breeding career is significantly higher than owning two horses who won Triple Crown races in the same year, so it is possible that the horse will be held out of the Belmont for that reason. The problem, though, is that if he doesn't run here there isn't a logical race for three-year-olds of his caliber until the Haskell and the Jim Dandy at the end of July. It's a debate that will be very tough to resolve, and it will have a big impact on this race.
Blended Citizen (+1200): This Doug O'Neill runner was aimed at the Derby but fell short of the points required. He went to the Peter Pan, a Belmont prep of sorts a week after the Derby, and won there instead. Tonalist pulled off the Peter Pan-Belmont double in 2014, and this colt will look to do the same. I'll save my editorializing about how distasteful O'Neill is until entries are confirmed and the race is closer.
Bravazo (+900): After a hard-charging second-place finish in the Preakness, it is no surprise that Bravazo is poised to join Justify as the only two iron horses on this year's Triple Crown trail. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas is old school, so he will have no fear about the lack of rest, and he will have the colt ready. But will he be good enough? I'm skeptical, but if the pace is a little strange like it was in the Preakness then anything is possible.
Free Drop Billy (+5000): This long shot colt was 16th in the Derby last time out, but that doesn't truly represent him. It was a tough race for him like it is for so many colts each year, and he can show more. But being a part of the tri seems like the ceiling for this colt in this field.
Gronkowski (+6900): A horse named after Rob Gronkowski at this price - who says oddsmakers don't have a sense of humor? This England-based runner was heading to the Derby before his ambitions were derailed with a minor injury. And then the drama really started. His owners took him from the stable of trainer Jeremy Noseda with no notice and moved him stateside under the tutelage of Chad Brown. Brown is as good as it gets, and he knows New York racing well, but it's doubtful he can have this horse ready to do real damage in time.
Hofburg (+700): This is a colt I was high on heading into the Derby, and I remain so. He is very lightly-raced, but trainer Bill Mott is both very good and very conservative, so if he puts the colt in these spots then it has meaning. His seventh-place finish in Kentucky was somewhat disappointing, but it was due more to outside issues rather than his own running. He's a very interesting factor here. He's a son of Tapit, who has sired three of the last four Belmont winners, so that obviously jumps off the page.
Justify (even): That strange sound you heard on Saturday afternoon was all the people jumping off Justify's bandwagon despite his Preakness win. I don't get it. The Preakness was not his best race, but he still engaged the two-year-old champion in a speed duel that was driven by an insanely poor riding decision by Jose Ortiz aboard Good Magic, and he still held on to win on a track that was getting heavy and difficult to deal with. If you don't like the colt after that race then you didn't truly like him entering it. I'm not by any means saying he is a lock here - Silver Charm, Big Brown and others have taught me that there is no such thing as a lock in the Belmont. But I am confident saying he is the best horse in this field - by a wide margin - and has the best chance of winning.
My Boy Jack (+800): This colt was a solid fifth in the Derby, though, I can't shake the feeling that that represents pretty much the best-case scenario for him in that field. He went back to California to freshen up and could get another shot here. The bettors loved him in Kentucky for reasons I don't understand, so he could be interesting here, too.
Restoring Hope: Bob Baffert could be trying to beat his Justify with another horse in his stable. After breaking his maiden in his third try, this colt headed to the Wood Memorial and was a decent third. Short of Derby points, he instead ran in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard. It was a total disaster. He hated the sloppy track and showed no fight at all in finishing 12th. His owners want to run him here, though more likely to get a piece than to legitimately threaten the favorite.
Tenfold (+1100): After a fifth in the Arkansas Derby, this colt was a strong third in the Preakness last time out. He's a son of Curlin out of a Tapit mare, so his closest male relatives have sired four of the last five Belmont winners. That breeding is his biggest asset, and he is clearly moving in the right direction. He could be a factor.
Vino Rosso (+2000): Another son of Curlin, this colt won the Wood Memorial but was a disappointing ninth in the Derby last time out. He had a poorly-planned trip that day, though, and is a closer who could benefit if things get crazy up front if someone challenges Justify - which absolutely has to happen if they want to beat him.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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