Justify will be a heavy favorite to win the Belmont Stakes: The morning line assigned him 4-5 odds after the draw and with the possibility of a Triple Crown in play, many will buy souvenir tickets to keep as mementos, sending those odds down even further.
But favorites aren’t always sure things in the 1 1/2-mile Test of Champions. Last year’s winner, Tapwrit, went off at odds of 6-1 and Creator paid a healthy 15-1 in 2016. In fact, American Pharoah is the only favorite in the last 16 years to cross the finish line first in the third leg of the Triple Crown.
There is ample justification for Justify to be the betting favorite, as explained here Wednesday. But there are a few reasons to bet against him. He will be running his sixth race since Feb. 18, a heavy workload for any horse, and drew the inside post for Saturday’s race. Because the starting gate at Belmont is positioned three-sixteenths of a mile from the clubhouse turn, the Belmont Stakes has the shortest run into the first turn of any of the three Triple Crown races. As a result, horses breaking from inside posts are more likely to be in trouble early, costing them their chance at victory. In fact, the last Belmont Stakes winner to break from post No. 1 was Touch Gold in 1997.
So, if you want to bet against Justify, here are three alternatives.
No. 3 Bravazo
Bravazo, owned by Calumet Farms, won the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds in February but then faltered in the Louisiana Derby in March, finishing eighth. A troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby hid the strong performance by the D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt but everyone saw how good Bravazo could be in his second-place performance to Justify in the Preakness.
“We’ve got a nice horse, and we’ll make it interesting,” Lukas told Jason Frakes of the Louisville Courier Journal. “I said that before the Preakness and we made it real interesting.”
Bravazo’s sire, Awesome Again, was well-suited to the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. He won the Queen’s Plate over that distance as a 3-year-old with victories in the Saratoga Handicap and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at age 4. Bravazo’s broodmare sire, Cee’s Tizzy, was bred for distance, too, as his sire Relaunch finished second in the San Luis Rey Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile graded race.
A quick pace should also be no trouble for Bravazo: twice he has produced triple-digit Brisnet pace figures as a 3-year-old, once in the Louisiana Derby (103) and again in the Preakness (101). Par for the Belmont Stakes is 102.
No. 4 Hofburg
The son of Tapit broke his maiden in March at Gulfstream Park in his second start before finishing second to Audible in the Florida Derby, a key Kentucky Derby prep race. Hofburg then finished seventh — 8 3/4 lengths behind Justify — in the Kentucky Derby after steadying twice on the far turn due to traffic trouble. By the time jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. positioned him for the stretch run, Hofburg was already 17 lengths behind the leader, way too far back to make an impact. He did post a strong Brisnet speed figure toward the end of the race (99 LP, seven points above par), indicating he had plenty left in the tank for a longer run.
That combination of speed and stamina is evident in his pedigree. Hofburg’s dosage index (2.78), the ratio of speed to stamina, fits perfectly with previous winners of the Belmont and his center of distribution (. 65) “is nicely placed for an added shot of stamina.” Plus, Hofburg’s half sister Emollient, also trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, won six of 18 starts including four Grade 1 races from 2012 to 2014.
No. 7 Tenfold
Tenfold is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who lost the 2007 Belmont Stakes by a nose to the filly Rags to Riches, and out of a mare by Tapit, who has sired three of the past four Belmont Stakes winners. The miss: Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Like Curlin, Tenfold did not race as a 2-year-old, instead breaking his maiden at Oaklawn Park in February. Tenfold then finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby and third in the Preakness by less than a length.
But this is a colt on the rise. His Brisnet speed figures have increased in every race and he set a career-high pace figure (97) at Pimlico. That typically indicates the horse is ready for another step forward.
“I’ve had a lot of success with Curlin and Tapit offsprings,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “They’ve also done very well in the last four or five runnings of the Belmont Stakes. Even though he’s lightly raced, I think Tenfold is very talented and getting better at the right time.”