Restoring Hope Odds to Win the 2018 Belmont Stakes with Picks and Predictions
When everyone - likely including Bob Baffert himself - thinks about Baffert and the Belmont this year, all thoughts are directed to heavy favorite Justify, who has the chance to be Baffert's second Triple Crown winner in four years. But that's just half the story. Baffert will also have Restoring Hope, another lightly-raced colt he tried to get into the Derby but fell short. He is nowhere near the caliber of his stablemate, but his breeding is sound and he has shown flashes of significant potential. Could it be a Baffert exacta in the Belmont? Even though the prize money would be the same both ways, I'm sure there is one Baffert-Baffert exacta combination that the trainer, and everyone else for that matter, would like more than the other.
Last race: The last race was so bad from top to bottom that I prefer to just pretend it never happened. The Pat Day Mile was for three-year-olds, and it was on the Derby undercard. The horse had a lousy day, not taking to the very sloppy track. He faded badly to finish 12th. It was a truly crazy race, though, with major long shots coming out on top and the favorites nowhere to be found. It was just a mess, and it's hard to draw too much meaning from it. Mike Smith was aboard for the Pat Day, but luckily the race wasn't an omen for the Smith-Baffert pairing in the Derby. Seahenge, the Aidan O'Brien colt from Ireland, was also in the Pat Day and had a similarly forgettable outing.
Prior experience: This colt liked racing in maiden races so much that he tried them three times. The first came in mid-December when he narrowly finished second by a nose at six furlongs. Less than two weeks later he stretched out in another try. He ran fine but was just eaten by two horses that were readier on the day. They took a short time to regroup, made a jockey change, and came back to win handily in early February in the colt's three-year-old debut. Then it was, after a two-month break, time for his stakes debut. The spot was the Wood Memorial since that race offered enough points for the top two finishers to get into the Derby field. This colt fell just short, finishing third after being in that position for every call of the race. The horse has clear talent, and he has been training very well since his last outing, but he would need to take a massive step forward here to come out on top.
Trainer: What can we say about Bob Baffert? He is tied for the most Triple Crown race wins ever with 14. He is the only active Triple Crown-winning trainer. He comes to the Belmont with a shot at the Triple Crown for the fifth time. He has won this race twice. Let's just cut to the chase - he is probably the best trainer in the world right now, and a win here would make it very hard to dispute that designation.
Jockey: Flavien Prat is back aboard after not riding him in the Pat Day. Prat had ridden him the two prior outings and has the only win aboard the horse. Prat is a very good young jockey who has really been riding good horses only since 2015. He has not won a Triple Crown race yet but hasn't had a ton of chances. But he does have his first Breeders' Cup win and has had a solid year already this season. He's a solid rider who is only going to get better, and he will win Triple Crown races in his career.
Breeding: The breeding here is strong, like so many horses in this field. He is a son of Giant's Causeway, Europe's champion horse of 2000. The recently-deceased sire had a solid career at stud. He was a son of Storm Cat, the legendary stud who sired Belmont winner Tabasco Cat among many strong offspring, and who is the great-grandsire of American Pharoah. Restoring Hope's damsire is Tapit, who has sired three of the last four Belmont winners, including the last two. He is a son of Belmont winner A.P. Indy and has two Triple Crown winners - Seattle Slew and Secretariat - in his near pedigree. Add it all up and this is a colt bred to handle this distance.
Odds: Restoring Hope is at +3500 to win the Belmont, which ties him with three other runners as the second longest shot on the board, ahead of only Free Drop Billy. Justify is heavily-favored at -125.
Can Restoring Hope Win the 2018 Belmont Stakes?: Probably not. There is good breeding, strong connections, and some clear talent. But he has not yet shown he can compete at the top levels, and in his stablemate he faces the ultimate giant that he has to slay. It is probably too much to ask, though this is a colt who will get a nice win or two somewhere along the way.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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