Just when it looked as though Justify didn't require any help in his hunt for the Triple Crown, trainer Bob Baffert received it on Tuesday as his star was drawn at the rail ahead of Saturday's big crescendo.
Albaugh Family Stables' Grade 1 victor Free Drop Billy will be a decided long shot against Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor Justify in Saturday's 2018 Belmont Stakes, but Romans wouldn't want to be anywhere else. His 98 Brisnet speed figure in the Preakness is complimented by his 107 pace figure, which, when added together (205), nearly equals that of his Kentucky Derby performance (204).
"I never like drawing the rail in one of these races, but we have it and we can't change it", Baffert said. "We'll deal with it".
Aside from all the usual speculation that comes in the aftermath of a post-position draw, Justify is worthy of his praise, as he's excelled in muddy wins at the Kentucky and the Preakness.
Though his stablemate Audible, who was widely considered the top candidate to spoil a Triple Crown, has been withdrawn the race, Justify will still have to contend with Bravazo, the runner-up at Preakness and the current Sham to Justify's Secretariat. Bravazo finished sixth and Vino Rosso ran ninth in the Kentucky Derby. Lukas often observes that both accomplishments are gratifying, but is quick to acknowledge that the hunt for the Triple Crown keeps him motivated year in and year out. He overcame the "Curse of Apollo" to win the Kentucky Derby in dominant fashion and take home the roses.
"Everybody is always joking in my family, (wife) Jill is always saying, 'They should just put you in the one hole and just draw the rest of the race, '" Baffert said. Bravazo was sixth in the Derby and came running late to finish a half-length behind Justify in the Preakness.
In the past 20 races, every post from 1 through 13 has produced at least one victor, except for Gate 10. Without the elusive Triple Crown on the line, total handle fell to $52.2 million in 2016, and down to $47.2 million in 2017.
While Justify is the heavy favorite with 4/5 odds, according to the opening line, the horse given the second-best chance at winning the race is Hofburg, whose owner, Juddmonte Farms, has pulled off a Belmont upset in the past.