ELMONT, N.Y. — I paid off your student loans with my Kentucky Derby betting advice. I paid your mortgage with my Preakness picks. Now I’m here to help you afford that time-share in Cabo with my five-star, stone-cold Belmont betting bonanza.
Send pictures from the Gulf of California when you thank me.
The premise remains the same as with the previous two Triple Crown races: take $100 and turn it into a small fortune. Picking the winner of both (Justify) was relatively easy; adding an exacta winner in the Derby (Justify-Good Magic) and the trifecta in the Preakness (Justify-Bravazo-Tenfold) made for a plump profit.
Once again, the winner seems fairly obvious: Justify is the real deal, and he should be able to overcome the three things he has going against him to become the 13th Triple Crown winner.
Drawing the No. 1 post is survivable with a clean break. It seems clear that trainer Bob Baffert wants jockey Mike Smith to send Justify to the lead out of the gate to avoid being pinned inside. Baffert said Thursday, “I’ll just tell him to watch the Big Brown race and leave it up to him.”
That was a reference to Big Brown’s disastrous Belmont in 2008 when, chasing the Triple Crown, the horse got trapped early and never could settle into a smooth stride. Clearly, it won’t be left up to Smith.
The second element to overcome is simply the Triple Crown grind. Justify won the first two legs impressively, but they weren’t easy races. He sat on a withering early pace in the Derby and hung on, then was pressed hard in the Preakness and barely staved off two fast-closing competitors. Both races were on sloppy tracks, increasing the difficulty.
And the third element is the time-lapse nature of Justify’s career. He didn’t race at all until February, and will now be packing a sixth race into less than four months. That’s a lot to ask of a modern thoroughbred, many of whom will race less than once a month.
But the way Justify has looked since the Preakness is impressive, if not outright amazing. He’s shown no sign of fatigue, no sign that he’s not relishing going to the track every morning to gallop. He floated over the Belmont surface Thursday and Friday, looking the picture of vitality.
“This is what a trainer hopes to see the day before he runs,” Baffert said Friday morning.
A fast, dry track is expected Saturday. And while Justify won both the last two legs on sloppy tracks, he didn’t need that to win. If anything, there should be less possibility for a fluke outcome on a dry racing surface.
So I’m rock-solid on Justify as the winner -- but just like the Preakness, there isn’t much point in making a win bet. At morning-line odds of 4-5, the wager won’t pay. Make a $2 souvenir ticket win bet and use the other $98 in exotic wagers.
The main bet will be a $1 trifecta, keying Justify on top and wheeling the field underneath. That’s a Justify-all-all bet, in wagering parlance, and with nine other horses in the field it’s a $56 outlay. That’s a lot to bet with a 4-5 favorite on top, but the expectation is that longer shots will hit the board in what often is an unpredictable race at 1½ miles. At least one horse at double-digit odds has finished in the top three in the last 10 Belmonts.
After that, let’s take a swing at the superfecta, which is the top four finishers. The play will be a $1 four-horse box for $24: Justify with Preakness third-place finisher Tenfold (12-1), Vino Rosso (8-1) and Hofburg (9-2). The risk here is excluding Preakness runner-up Bravazo, but the hunch is that Bravazo ran his best race in Baltimore and is used up at this juncture.
The last $18 will go in a $3, three-horse exacta box: Justify with Tenfold and Vino Rosso. It won’t pay a fortune if Justify wins, but if he places second -- or if Tenfold and Vino Rosso run 1-2 -- there will be a much better payout.
With an odds-on favorite who looks hard to beat, this isn’t a great betting race. But it’s worth taking a swing at it while simultaneously watching Justify make history.
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