Belmont Stakes 150: Trust your eyes or what’s on paper? Let odds be your guide

Blended Citizen works at Keeneland Race Course. (Keeneland photo)

Do you trust your eyes or look at what’s on the paper?

The 150th Belmont Stakes will be, as it sells itself, “the test of the champion” — in this case Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes champion Justify. Barring a horse winning the Belmont and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, or possibly the Travers Stakes and the Classic, most conceivable scenarios would say Justify has wrapped up the division championship.

But champions can be beaten as 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was in the Travers.

The major question in the aftermath of Justify’s scintillating win in the Preakness Stakes was whether that demanding performance, where he was tested every step of the way, would drain him and make him vulnerable in the Belmont, where he is the logical and overwhelming favorite.

So, back to eyes and paper.

If this were any other race and I didn’t have training videos and in front of me and hadn’t seen him at Churchill Downs once, I’d say this horse’s speed figures look like they might be headed in the wrong direction.

While it’s become fashionable for handicappers to say they pooh-poohed the Apollo curse — no Derby winner was unraced at 2 since 1882 winer Apollo — it goes without saying that no Triple Crown winner (the first was Sir Barton in 1919) was unraced at 2. While this didn’t matter, with modern training timing any longer, it might have some relevance in a five-week test of stamina spread over three races.

That’s the case against Justify.

But as to the question the eyes — has anyone who has seen Justify since the Preakness said it looks like something was taken out of him? Is there any dissent that Justify looks like he came back amazingly well and doesn’t look like a horse news anything but ready for a top performance in a big race?

When the eyes and paper are in conflict, bet the odds.

In multi-race bets I will playing multiple tickets, at least one where I single Justify and hope to catch prices in the other legs. But most of my efforts will be in the hopes of getting a value from an upset.

Race  11 | Grade I Belmont Stakes | 1 1/2 miles

1. Blended Citizen
2. Bravazo
3. Justify
4. Tenfold
5. Hofburg

Comment: Besides being a sentimental favorite (look at the name of the owner) has done little wrong. Blended Citizen won the Peter Pan here after getting shut out of the Derby on the also-eligible list and has a nice work over the track since. If Big Sandy, as Belmont is known, is a mercurial surface as race tracks go, this experience can be nothing but an advantage. If there is a contested pace, Blended Citizen can capitalize on that. Based on the Preakness it seems logical that there will be a hot pace from the Baffert rabbit Restoring Hope or another. Bravazo also figures factor at the wire based on his running style in the Preakness. Even if Justify loses, it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where Justify could be any worse than third. The decision to put Tenfold fourth in this analysis is based largely on trainer Steve Asmussen’s immediate reaction after the Preakness that he’d go on to the Belmont with the horse, given that Asmussen is not one given to exuberance or hyperbole. Of the fresh horses ran in the Derby but skipped the Preakness, Hofburg seems to be the most likely of those.

I’ll pull for Justify to be the 13th Triple Crown winner but, as a betting proposition, I’m going elsewhere (mostly). Good luck.

Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Justify gallops (all four legs in the air) at Churchill Downs on June 3.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Justify gallops at Churchill Downs on June 3.

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