Justify Odds to Win the 2018 Belmont Stakes with Picks and Predictions
Every time I think of Justify over the last couple of weeks I think of Big Brown. Like Justify, that colt was a total freak who was in an entirely different class than the rest of the horses around him. After dominant wins in the first two legs, I went into the Belmont in 2008 as confident as I could possibly be. I watched the race in a cancer ward where my mom was, and I was sure that what would wind up being her last Belmont would be a historic one. I knew it, in fact.
But as soon as the gate opened it was obvious something was wrong. He wasn't sick or lame, but he just wasn't ready to run. He never fired and was pulled up before the finish line. It remains to this day the most incomprehensible thing I have ever witnessed on a track, and that's saying something given that racing is easily the least comprehensible of sports. The setting didn't make it any easier to digest, either.
Justify is at least as freakish as Big Brown was, and his win seems just as probable. But if Big Brown can lose then any horse can lose. And all we can do is hope for the best - and find a happier place to watch the race this time around.
Last race: It was popular right after the Preakness to be negative about Justify's effort in that race. A lot of people probably have sore ankles from jumping off the bandwagon. I hope they stay off - it will only make the odds better in the Belmont. I was not nearly as down on that race at the time as most, and it has aged well for me. It wasn't his best race, but it still showed a lot.
He locked into a battle with Good Magic early on. Good Magic is quite probably the second-best horse in the class at this point, and Jose Ortiz had a terrible ride on him and was riding him far too hard out of the gate. So, Justify had to look the two-year-old champion in the eye for much of the race. That is a hard thing to do, and they led each other through an opening mile that was more than a second faster than the Derby. The track was sloppy in both races, but it was decidedly heavier in the Preakness, which made the running even harder. After matching Good Magic for a long while, he put him away at the top of the stretch. From there Mike Smith clearly shut the horse down. Bravazo and Tenfold were charging late, but Justify hadn't engaged them yet as they charged. I believed that he still had fuel left in the tank if he needed it late in the race at the time, and I have believed it even more since given how well he has come out of that race. He showed class, toughness, and maturity in that win, and he still has a lot more to give.
Prior experience: By this point we don't need to dwell on this too much. He's a historic freak. His maiden race in February was such an easy win it was unfair. His second race a month later was more impressive. Then he put Bolt d'Oro in his place in the Santa Anita Derby and then made 19 of the top colts in the country look silly in the Derby. This is a special, special horse.
Trainer: We know that Bob Baffert is capable of winning a Triple Crown for one obvious reason - he's the only active trainer who has done so. He's far from the highest-volume trainer out there, but he draws the best of the best horses. Just think of the streak he is on - American Pharoah to Arrogate to Justify. That's hardly fair.
Jockey: Mike Smith is almost a part-time rider at this point in his career. He's 52 and has been wildly successful, so he doesn't need to ride much - and he only gets on good horses. He currently sits seventh nationally in earnings, but the difference between him and everyone else is amazing. He has just 106 starts and 24 wins. Florent Geroux currently leads the nation, and he has started 453 times. Irad Ortiz Jr. leads the top 10 with 671 starts, and four of the Top 10 have more wins than Smith has starts. It's incredible. There is no one better at judging pace or managing a race. Justify couldn't be in better hands.
Breeding: Justify is a son of Scat Daddy, a sire who died when he was just 11 years old. Justify is the best horse of this last class for the sire - or any of his classes, for that matter. But he's not alone this year. Seahenge in this race is also a Scat Daddy, and so were two others in the Derby. Scat Daddy was a son of Johannesburg, the two-year-old champion in 2001 who was trained by Aidan O'Brien - the guy who probably contends best with Baffert for the title of top trainer in the world right now, and the guy who trains Seahenge. Justify's damsire is Ghostzapper, the 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic winner who was sired by 1998 Classic winner Awesome Again. Awesome Again's son, Oxbow, won the Preakness, and another son, Paynter, was second in the Belmont for Baffert. The breeding is quality here - though we have already seen that that is the case on the track.
Odds: Not surprisingly, Justify is the heavy favorite. He sits at -125 to win the race at Bovada , with Hofburg a distant second at +400 on the strength of his breeding.
Can Justify Win the 2018 Belmont Stakes?: Absolutely. He's been asked to do a lot in his short career, and he couldn't be blamed for being tired. But he has trained very well between races, he has done everything asked of him to this point, and his connections are as good as they get. This is unquestionably his race to lose, and if he shows up on the day I don't expect him to lose it.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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