Can Justify Win the Triple Crown? Odds and Expert Betting Predictions
Now that the Preakness is over and we have a horse with a shot at a Triple Crown, we have to ask the question we have asked about so many colts in this same spot over the years - Can Justify win the Triple Crown? It's not an easy question, and we will only truly know for sure about two and a half minutes after post time on June 9, but let's tackle it as best we can. My short answer is yes, but we need to go deeper than that:
Class: You cannot overstate how good this horse is. He's an absolute freak. That kind of terminology gets thrown around too often when a horse has a good race or two. But this is different. This horse, in a very short time, has repeatedly shown speed, versatility, and sheer power that is so very uncommon. He has that impossible-to-define 'it' factor. And he has it in a way that no other horse in this class - or most classes, for that matter, has. He's simply special. Sometimes that's all it takes.
Toughness: I don't think he is getting nearly enough credit for the toughness he showed in the Preakness. Jose Ortiz had a horrible ride in the Preakness aboard Good Magic, so Justify had to stare the two-year-old champion in the eye for much longer than he should have had to. That's hard. And the track, which had been extremely wet early on, was starting to thicken as the rain had been gone for a while. That made it heavy. Justify, in short, had multiple reasons to fall short - legitimate excuses. But he just dug in and kept going. There was one moment that was particularly striking. Mike Smith thought he was clear on Justify, so he let up a bit approaching the wire so that he wasn't burning all the matches if he didn't need to. But then Good Magic showed some spark and the two other colts were closing outside. So Smith asked Justify again, and the colt gave it to him. Only a tough, determined colt will do that after a race like that. That unwillingness to be beat no matter what is something you can't teach.
Running style: Justify's greatest strength is his incredible tactical speed. If the race goes crazy, he will just run the other horses into the ground and then keep going - like he did in the Derby. But he doesn't have to run crazy fractions - he just does what is needed. It's a running style that works well in the Belmont, and for proof you need to go no further than the last Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. In his Belmont he set the pace early and was allowed to set fairly conservative fractions. Then, when he was asked in the stretch, he had so much left to give and he just pulled away and made a mockery of the race.
Breeding : Scat Daddy died young, so Justify is the first son he has had to challenge a race of this caliber. But when we look back further in Justify's sire line we see some good news. Justify's great-grandsire is the great Storm Cat. He sired Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat himself and has shown up in the bloodlines of many greats along the way. Most notably for this discussion, Storm Cat is also the great-grandsire of American Pharoah. And Justify's damsire, Ghostzapper, never ran a mile and a half, but he did convincingly wire the field in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic, among other top efforts. The breeding is there for this colt.
Connections: Bob Baffert is the only active trainer who knows what it takes to win the Triple Crown. And he also has tried and failed to win one in the Belmont three times, so he knows what not to do better than anyone, too. Mike Smith is a cold-blooded big-race assassin that judges pace as well as anyone and who started his career in New York, so he knows the track well. You couldn't pick better connections for the colt in this test.
Top horses have fallen short: Big Brown felt like the coldest of stone-cold locks in 2008. He didn't even finish the race. Silver Charm was a great champion. Real Quiet was in top form. Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, California Chrome - it goes on and on. Being a very good horse, and the best horse in your class, is no guarantee of anything in this brutal race.
Field will be deep: The field is shaping up as a challenging one. Audible, if he is entered despite sharing much of the same ownership as Justify, is a legitimate threat. Hofburg and Tenfold are colts with breeding very well suited for the race who could be dangerous. Bravazo will be back after a charging second in the Preakness. Vino Rosso is better than we saw in the Derby. This is a tougher and likely larger field than American Pharoah beat to win his Triple Crown.
Is he too tired?: This is the most significant question and one we can only speculate on. The Belmont will be his sixth race in 16 weeks, which is a grueling schedule, His last two races have been on sloppy tracks, which is generally harder on horses than fast tracks. And he has been leading or dueling for every stride of both races. He's a special horse, but even special horses have a limit. Will he find his here?
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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