by Jeremy Plonk
June 6, 2018
Ten horses were drawn Tuesday night for Saturday’s 150th Belmont Stakes, and Triple Crown aspirant Justify landed the rail in his quest for a historic 13th sweep of American racing’s big three events. A near wire-to-wire winner in Baltimore, Justify has trailed only 3 horses in his 5-race career and once again is expected to be right on the engine. The rail draw likely solidifies those tactics and jockey Mike Smith can take the odds-on favorite out a few paths after the break to float his competition a bit wide into the clubhouse turn if he so chooses.
The last time trainer Bob Baffert was in this situation, the command to American Pharoah was to take the race to the competition from the outset of the 2015 Belmont. He shot right to the front from post 5, took the rail and ran off into history.
Noble Indy in post 9 figures to be the primary speed threat. He drew poorly for the second straight race after the 19-hole sealed his fate in the Kentucky Derby. New jockey Javier Castellano will use some speed from the break here with a modest run to the first turn over the 1-1/2 mile oval. Note the race begins essentially at the finish line and makes a full lap. There’s not the massive run to the first turn that you get at Churchill and Pimlico.
Horses like Bravazo (post 3), Restoring Hope (5), Tenfold (7) and Vino Rosso (8) figure to vie just behind the two logical pacemakers and all are drawn well. The wide 10-hole draw for deep-closing Blended Citizen should not impact him as he likely drops back and tucks in under Triple Crown rookie Kyle Frey. Fellow closers Hofburg (4) and Free Drop Billy (2) should have clean, ground-saving trips from their respective draws until the race picks up into the far turn and all will have to find their way.
If you’re looking for a draw knock on the rail for Justify, note that the 1-hole is 10: 0-0-3 in mile and one-half dirt races at Belmont Park over the last five years – but only 1 of those entrants was a horse 5-1 or less odds in their respective chances. Belmont Stakes winners from the rail have been blanked for 2 decades since Touch Gold’s 1997 victory. Only Touch Gold and A.P. Indy (1992) have won the Belmont from the rail since the great Riva Ridge and Secretariat did it in back-to-back years in 1972-’73. On the flipside, history shows 23 Belmont winners from the rail, most of any post, when you factor in a century and a half of history.