It’s a strange situation that racing finds itself in: we’re on the cusp of another potential Triple Crown, and compared to the Pharoah fever in 2015, the reception this year has been a bit lackluster. At times, it almost feels like we’re going into Belmont weekend without the storied three-race series on the line, and that there isn’t a stand-out among the sophomore class this year.
Blame the weather, blame the timing, or blame the cold feet that many are experiencing when it comes to their confidence in Justify this year, but one thing is certain: this year’s Triple Crown will be one for the record books, regardless of how Justify finishes in the race.
It has been the wettest weather that the three race series has seen in a very long time. Historic rain met Justify when he won the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs after never having raced as a juvenile; fog so thick at Pimlico that even Larry Collmus had to rely on the NBC cameras (rather than his own eyes) to call the race, and that too, tried to defeat the big chestnut. While his connections came out of his Preakness victory a bit more humble than they had been going in, it did nothing to damper the Scat Daddy colt’s self-confidence as he was caught on video prancing back to the barn after the race.
Perhaps Justify has taken a liking to taunting the untouchable elements of his career, because so far, all have failed to bring him down. Not Apollo and his mythical curse, not Mother Nature, not the racing gods, and no bad luck seem to be able to take down a horse that started his meteoric rise to success barely five months ago. But the one thing that many are worried about are not things that cannot be seen or touched. Many are convinced that the thing that will finally contribute to another horse beating Justify is Justify himself.
Compared to all of his challengers this Saturday at Belmont Park, Justify is one of the least experienced, and his racing schedule will catch up to him at some point this year. Experience doesn’t exactly translate to class -as there are plenty of three-year-olds around the country with more starts than he does, but couldn’t be Justify’s training partner- but it does help in situations similar to what the young Triple Crown hopeful will experience in just two days.
Forecasts are predicting that the weather will be cloudy and cool but rain has not been predicted thus far, or at least, in amounts significant enough to make the nightly news the day before the race. It seems the weather may just cooperate for this final leg of The Crown, and we’ll get the chance to see Justify unleash his enormous stride on a dry track with enormous turns that will work in his favor, as he has drawn the rail.
Unlike the Derby, the rail in the Belmont isn’t much of a concern, especially with a horse like Justify that brings class, speed, and staying ability to the table. There won’t be a crush of nineteen other bodies trying to get into the first turn, and that post (historically) has produced the most winners of the Belmont, tallying in at 23 victories including five of the twelve Triple Crown winners; a list that also includes the mightiest Big Red to win the series, Secretariat.
1997: Touch Gold
1992: A.P. Indy
1972: Riva Ridge
1969: Arts and Letter
1931: Twenty Grand
1930: Gallant Fox
1927: Chance Slot
1925: American Flag
1924: Mad Play
1920: Man O’War
1919: Sir Barton
1916: Friar Rock
After the draw, Justify was made the 4-5 morning line favorite, but those odds are likely to sink once the betting windows are opened and horse players come to peace that this colt might just be one of the greatest natural talents in the sport. In his young career, he has a near spotless record from the gate, ample speed, and 12 furlongs to stretch his legs; this post figures to be a non-factor in the same way that the weather has left the chestnut unimpressed and unfazed.
One way or another, Justify will be making history on Saturday. The Triple Crown likes to cluster its winners, as it is a pattern of famine and then of plenty. It seems that racing has returned to the time of plenty, and right at a span where the sport desperately needs to attract and retain fans. A bold, gorgeous horse that defied the stereotype of needing to race at two (a sticking point for many fans) may be just what the veterinarian ordered.
You can watch the coverage on NBCSN until they switch over to NBC for prime time. The race goes off at 6:46pm EST.