Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we see how racing reacted to Justify’s win.
Well, the good news is that everyone came out of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes in fine order.
There was a buzz around Bob Baffert’s barn on Sunday morning, and he brought the big fella out for photo ops. The “Today” show on NBC even did a live segment, and thank goodness Hoda Kotb wasn’t there to hug the horse and tell him she loved him.
They even did a segment on Justify on the evening news. (Although, they did identify Elliott Walden as Kenny Troutt. We all make mistakes.)
Baffert was in his usual high spirits, going so far as to say Justify could have done another lap around the 1½-mile track. Justify is headed to Churchill Downs on Monday morning and will be evaluated. It’s possible he could come back to Santa Anita in a week, at which time the track would try to scramble and see whether he would parade in front of the crowd on its closing weekend.
Baffert said American Pharoah also looked great after he won the Triple Crown, but once he got to Louisville, he showed that he was a little tired.
But racing is never afraid to turn a positive into a negative. There were some who hinted, but didn’t quite come out and say it, that the race was rigged. Now, I have to say up front that as a former investigative reporter and editor, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. So, you’re going to have to have a lot more evidence than has been presented to get me to buy into it. In fact, I’ll just say it: I think there were some curious decisions, but I in no way believe the race was rigged.
The first decision, which happened well before the race, was when trainer Todd Pletcher announced that Audible, a strong third in the Kentucky Derby, would not run because he wasn’t in good training shape. What made that suspicious is that Justify and Audible had mostly the same ownership group.
I asked Jerry Bailey, a Hall of Fame jockey and NBC commentator, if he thought the story was plausible.
“Let’s just say I’m skeptical,” Bailey said.
Then in Sunday’s New York Post, respected turf writer Tom Pedulla, did a story in which he quoted Noble Indy owner Mike Repole as saying: “I can see the stewards looking into this over the next couple of days,” Repole said. “I probably expect them to look into reckless riding by Florent [Geroux aboard Restoring Hope] and bring him in to question him about what he was thinking and what his tactics are.”
What this is all about was Restoring Hope, also trained by Baffert, going to the lead and setting up on the outside of Justify for the first quarter to half. Some said he was blocking, but he was pretty wide and there was room for horses to go after Justify if they wanted.
I would normally dismiss this as Repole just being a bad loser. However, Pedulla also got Restored Hope’s owner Gary West, who said: “I have no earthly idea what Florent was thinking or what his race strategy was.”
Repole compared Restoring Hope to an offensive lineman and Justify a running back.
West would not go so far as to buy into that theory.
“Everyone looks at things differently,” West told Pedulla. “We didn’t belong in the race, anyway, and that is my fault.”
That’s something we all agree upon.
West also has champion 3-year-old West Coast in the Baffert barn.
Repole also went after his jockey, Eclipse Award winning Javier Castellano, for not taking Noble Indy to the lead. That was a scenario expected by everyone, because they told everyone that was the plan. But Castellano said he went with Plan B, which was to hang back. He finished last. Repole also said it will be a long time before he uses Castellano again.
Now, I believe that Justify is a superior enough horse that he would have handled almost every scenario that was thrown at him.
You can decide if you find any credibility in these comments. From what I see, it’s a case of “move along, nothing to see here.”
Now back to celebrating the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown.
Santa Anita review
Baffert went three for three in stakes races at Belmont on Saturday but was 0 for 1 in stakes at Santa Anita on Sunday. Solomini, who ran in the Kentucky Derby, was a no-factor third in the Grade 3 $100,000 Affirmed Stakes going 1 1/16 miles.
Draft Pick, trained by Peter Eurton, was the winner by 2½ lengths over Axelrod. Draft Pick paid $10.20, $5.40 and $2.40.
“We had a perfect trip,” said winning jockey Joe Talamo. “I was real happy with my position, and when we swung out around the two horses on the lead, he really took off. … Full credit to Pete, this horse is getting better and better.”
Big races review
A look at graded stakes or races worth more $100,000 or more on Sunday.
Woodbine: Grade 3 $125,000 Hendrie Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 6½ furlongs. Winner: Code Warrior ($14.20)
Belmont: $150,000 Jersey Girl Stakes, fillies 3 years old, 6 furlongs. Winner: Sower ($11.00)
Santa Anita: Grade 3 $100,000 Affirmed Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Winner: Draft Pick ($10.20)
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Now, here is the star of the show, Sunday’s results. See you on Thursday.