Justify’s march toward immortality continues on Saturday, when he’ll try to join Seattle Slew as the only undefeated Triple Crown winner in history by taking the Belmont Stakes (6:30 p.m., NBC). The Bob Baffert trainee made it look easy in the Kentucky Derby, but he showed some signs of fatigue in the Preakness, winning by a diminishing half-length while seeing a speed figure decrease. Jockey Mike Smith will have to ensure his mount has enough left in the tank, but he seems confident heading into the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion.”
“He acts like he should [handle it],” Smith said in a Santa Anita press release. “His energy level is good, it’s high, he’s galloping out very well from his last two races. I don’t see why he wouldn’t handle it.”
Justify, breaking from post one as the 4-5 favorite on the morning-line, will face nine rivals in the Belmont Stakes; here are the top three contenders with an upset chance.
#4 Hofburg (9-2)
Hofburg didn’t get the cleanest trip in “the Run for the Roses,” steadying twice on the far turn, but he managed to pick off some foes in the stretch while finishing seventh. His pedigree cries out for this distance as he’s by Tapit, sire of three of the last four Belmont Stakes winners, out of a mare by Touch Gold, who won this race in 1997. Hofburg hinted at serious ability in the Florida Derby when he ran second to Audible, who grabbed third in the Kentucky Derby but decided to bypass this race. Hofburg makes just his fifth career start, so there’s still room for improvement as well. Bill Mott, who won the Belmont in 2010 with Drosselmeyer, keeps Irad Ortiz Jr, who won the 2016 Belmont with Creator, in the saddle.
#3 Bravazo (8-1)
Bravazo is the only other colt that will participate in all three legs of the Triple Crown aside from Justify. He was 66-1 in the Derby but outran those odds when placing sixth despite a very wide trip. On an equally muddy track at Pimlico, Bravazo was a close second in the Preakness. However, if there’s no significant rainfall in New York on Saturday, it’s possible he could take a step back. Bravazo’s pedigree doesn’t preclude him from getting the distance, as he’s by 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again out of a Cee’s Tizzy (sire of 2000 and 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow) mare. Four-time Belmont-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas names Luis Saez, who’s having a career year by earnings per start ($13,121), to ride.
#10 Blended Citizen (15-1)
Blended Citizen didn’t have the credentials to make the Kentucky Derby, but he showed an affinity for this course when taking the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes on May 12. However, his ability to get the Belmont distance is less obvious when compared to his competition. His sire, Proud Citizen, was a distant fifth in the 2002 Belmont. Both trainer (Doug O’Neill) and jockey (Kyle Frey) are after their first Belmont triumph.